Chandos continues their excellent line of re-recordings with THE FILM MUSIC OF BERNARD HERRMANN. The generous 77-minute album contains two long suites from Herrmann’s groundbreaking score for CITIZEN KANE (1941) and HANGOVER SQUARE (1945). Many fans complained on the message boards about the inclusion of yet another KANE suite. To a certain extent I see their point, but the dark tone of the two scores go well together. And when the music is of this caliber, it’s hard to dispute any conductor wanting to tackle Herrmann, no matter the score.
The big draw for many fans will be the HANGOVER SQUARE suite, which, as far as I can tell, is receiving its premiere legit release. The film noir stars Linda Darnell, George Sanders, and Laird Cregar as a composer-pianist who suffers from bouts of amnesia and is suspected of murder. The piano obviously plays a big role in the story and an equally big part in the score. From the soaring strings of “Fame” to the brutal music of “Murder” and “The Bonfire,” the score contains Herrmann’s trademark harmonies and short rhythmic motifs.
The suite concludes with a rare recording of the 11-minute Concerto Macabre for piano and orchestra. Due to the success of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, written for the film DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT, producers were quick to add short concertos to their films. Though the practice started in Britain, it crossed the pond to Hollywood films such as SPELLBOUND and HANGOVER SQUARE. The piece was based on themes and motifs from the score and accompanies the final scene of the film as Cregar’s pianist plays the concerto as flames engulf him. While the concerto has been recorded before, Martin Roscoe elicits every bit of drama from the piece with his excellent playing.
The generous 49-minute KANE suite encompasses nearly all the music that can be found in full recordings of the score. From its eerie opening chords to its dramatic finale, the score is one of the all-time greats in film music. For all of Herrmann’s later experiments, few scores equal the quality of KANE, which remains a bold, fresh score in many ways.
All the major cues are there. From the delicate beauty of the snow picture and the boisterous music that underscores the newspaper scenes to the theme and variations accompanying the montage and dissolution of Kane’s marriage.
For me, the success of any KANE recording rests with “Salammbo’s Aria.” This fiendishly difficult soprano aria is sung in the film by Kane’s former mistress and new wife. It was composed in a higher key so that the music would sound above and beyond what she could handle. And the aria challenges even some of the top tier sopranos of our day, including Renee Fleming and Kiri Te Kanawa. Orla Boylan is missing the creamy vocal quality that I prefer, but I’ll forgive that when the orchestral playing is this good. The timpani and lower strings supply weight to this interpretation of the aria that I haven’t heard in other versions and the French horn rips at the end (my favorite part) send shivers up my spine. The aria ends too deliberately for my tastes but it’s a worthy recording of a piece that should be a staple of the soprano repertoire, at least for those few singers that have the chops for it.
Stephen Hogger has done an excellent job arranging the two scores from the original manuscripts. Since so many of the cues are short, especially in KANE, they are grouped in lengthier tracks. This might be frustrating if you’re looking for a particular cue, but it gives the album a fluidity that it might have otherwise lacked. Gunther Kogenbehn’s liner notes are informative but don’t offer much in the way of new information and little in-depth discussion of the music.
Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic perform with their usual energy and impeccable attention to detail. While I could quibble with some of the rubato and slower tempo choices, Gamba’s handling of the music is up to his usual level of excellence. Once again, the Chandos engineers have given us a vibrant recording that brings out new details in Herrmann’s music, with particular attention to the lower registers that gives the music a welcome depth. Listen to the CD with headphones for an even greater level of appreciation.
If you’ve never heard either of these scores, THE FILM MUSIC OF BERNARD HERRMANN is a good place to start. Even if you have heard them, you’ll more than likely unearth new musical gems. A worthy addition to the Herrmann catalog.