Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975)
Film Classics
CD 1
Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Mountain top and sunrise; Prelude; The grotto; Salt slides; Atlantis; The giant chameleon and the fight; The shaft and finale) (1959)
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (Overture; The duel with the skeleton; Baghdad) (1958)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Outer Space; Radar; Gort; The Robot; Space control; Terror; Farewell and finale) (1951)
Fahrenheit 451 (Prelude; Fire engine; The bedroom; Flowers of fire; The road and finale) (1966)
The Three Worlds of Gulliver (Overture; Minuetto – Wapping; Hornpipe; Lilliputians 1 & 2; Victory 1 & 2; Escape; The king's march; Trees; The tightrope; Lovers; The chess game; Pursuit; Finale) (1960)
CD 2
Citizen Kane (Overture; Variations; Ragtime; Finale) (1941)
Jane Eyre (1944)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (Sleigh-ride; Swing your partners) (1941)
The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Interlude; The memory waltz) (1952)
Mysterious Island (Prelude; The balloon; The giant crab; The giant bee; The giant bird) (1961)
Jason and the Argonauts (Prelude; Talos; Talos's death; Triton) (1963)
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann (Mysterious Island and Jason)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann (all except Mysterious Island and Jason)
rec. Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK, February 1970 (Citizen Kane, Jane Eyre, The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Snows of Kilimanjaro), November 1973 (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Fahrenheit 451); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, February 1975 (Gulliver’s Travels, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts). ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 3784 [72:04 + 68:11]

Bernard Herrmann plays a role, central or supportive in all three Eloquence 2CD film sets issued in November 2010 (Cinema Spectacular (see review) and Miklos Rozsa's Julius Caesar, Ben Hur and Quo Vadis being the other two). It’s been a long wait for these recordings to emerge although the Herrmann tracks appeared in limited circulation CDs from Decca during the 1980s. That they surface now – and at bargain price – is cause for celebration. While 2011 is the centenary of Herrmann’s birth these discs would have been hotly welcomed at any time.

Brace yourself for a faithful immersion in the wilder excesses of the Decca Phase 4 process. The balances are superhuman and the spatial effects richly directional. Is it any wonder that Stokowski delighted in this Decca elite series. This exuberant ‘sound signature’ will only be objected to by ascetics.

During the first half of the 1970s Decca (in the USA, London) Phase Four issued a series of momentous film music LPs:-

PFS 4173 Music From The Great Movie Thrillers - Bernard Herrmann
PFS 4309 The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann - Bernard Herrmann (London SP44207)
PFS 4315 Music from Great Shakespearian Films - Bernard Herrmann
PFS 4337 The Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann - Bernard Herrmann
PFS 4363 Great British Film Scores - Bernard Herrmann
PFS 4365 Bernard Herrmann Conducts - Bernard Herrmann
PFS 4381 Obsession - Bernard Herrmann

From these have been quarried the contents of two of the three sets and the Julius Caesar tracks on the Rozsa set.

The Herrmann material has been much admired in audiophile circles with at least one low volume LP run by Mobile Fidelity (1995, MFSL 1-240), a reputedly super quality CD UDCD 656 and in May 1996 a standard Decca CD reissue built around PFS 4309 topped up with tracks from PFS4337.

The Herrmann music on that first Fantasy Film Scores LP for Journey to the Centre of the Earth was part of the reason for my taking an interest in film scores. Spectacular isn’t the half of it! Dynamic range is extreme and the most beautiful effects abound – how about the twinkling of a seemingly myriad harps in Mountain top and sunrise and Grotto. The Prelude is gargantuan and trembles with awe. The Hammond organs which could have been such a miscalculation are masterfully resolved into the sound-stage. The terror of Salt slides is carried in the brass. Atlantis is awed and mysterious. The giant chameleon is evoked through the ophicleide and the creature’s final death throes in the lava are heart-rending. The shaft and finale has the Jules Verne heroes rising up the volcanic throat on a great slab of rock – the sense of up-rushed acceleration is palpable. The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad has a rambunctious and seductive Overture which makes way for the rattle, ratchet and xylophone assaults of The duel with the skeleton. The last extract is Baghdad – which beguiles us with a perfect picture of the sloe-eyed beauties of the great city. Textures thin out for The Day the Earth Stood Still. Outer Space, Space control and Radar make use of rapidly pulsed percussion and piano. The pulse slows for the starlit glimmer of Farewell and finale. Fahrenheit 451 begins with a remorselessly driven string Prelude that at first sounds as if it might be akin to the drive music for Psycho. The road and finale movement is piercingly tender – with hints of Ravel’s Pavane. Then comes a brutal gear-change for Gulliver's Travels, the music for which is a fantasy of super-Handelianisms, a touch of Prokofiev’s Kije (trs. 26, 28), a croaking Shostakovich-like blast with wooden ratcheting and a gritty rhythmic itch. The sequence and the first disc end with another bumptious Handelian blast in the Finale. The second disc opens with three pieces from the whoopingly joyous confidence of Citizen Kane’s newspaper days and taking in some sentimentality along the way. The character of this smattering of the score is very different from the Gerhardt Kane suite on RCA-BMG. Then comes a single long track of music from the film Jane Eyre. It exults in super brilliant analogue. The Devil and Daniel Webster pieces - Sleigh-ride and Swing your partners - are further examples evocative of affluent nineteenth century Americana – Turkey in the Straw but on steroids. The Interlude and Memory Waltz from The Snows of Kilimanjaro are powerhouse poignant pieces in the manner of the music from Marnie. We then make our way back to the fantasy scores with The Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts with the extraordinarily pictorial music for The giant crab, The giant bee and the Talos episodes seeming to reach out to the listener – transforming ‘mere’ sound into image and back.

For more information on Bernard Herrmann visit the Bernard Herrmann Society.

Do not miss these extraordinary and richly enjoyable Herrmann documents. They’re well supported with a liner-note from Kenneth Chalmers.

Rob Barnett