Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Bernard HERRMANN The Trouble With Harry Joel McNeely conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5971 [43:07]  


Crotchet (UK)

The Trouble With Harry was of course that he was dead but he was not allowed to lied down - or at least to lie down in the same place for very long, for this Hitchcock black comedy was all about a collection of mostly delightfully bumbling people who for various reasons needed to hide and bury the same body - Harry!

The film has been the least understood and the least admired of Hitchcock's films from his Hollywood period of the 1950s. (It was made in 1955 the same year as Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief and before his masterpieces Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960). Part of the reason might have been that there was no real murder and the cast list was composed of character actors: the delightful, cherubic Edmund Gwenn partnered with the equally charmingly madcap Mildred Natwick as, respectively, the elderly sea Captain and the older woman he fancies, with the younger couple played by John Forsythe and the delectable Shirly MacLaine who was making her film debut. It was also the beginning of the partnership between Hitch and Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was always fond of this score. It certainly received his greatest attention when he was preparing the first commercial recording (for Decca/London in 1968), more so than the music for the other Hitchcock film scores that were also included on that album (which is highly recommended and still available - London 443 895-2): i.e. - North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie and Vertigo. As Christopher Husted says in the booklet notes that go with this new Varèse Sarabande release, "Seeing The Trouble With Harry as an expression of Hitchcock's dry and diabolical humour, he arranged partially reorchestrated music into a short concert piece which he called Portrait of Hitch. It has since been published and enjoys regular performances."

This present album represents the world premiere of the complete score as it was originally written. I should say at the outset that McNeely follows the precedent set by his two earlier recordings of the Vertigo and Psycho in delivering an outstanding performance in splendidly clear, detailed and impressively-perspectived sound. He catches the clever, sardonic, diabolic humour of the score wonderfully well. Listening to the music in total one can play spotting post and pre-echoes of other Herrmann scores: there are the deep, swirling harp ripples of Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef, for instance, and the theme for The Doctor reminds one of the cocky perkiness of the music from The Magnificent Ambersons; while looking ahead, one recognises snatches of the dark string figures of Psycho and the beginnings of Vertigo's big romantic theme, but treated more wistfully in this context in cues like "The Cup", "The Walk", "The Wish", and "The Proposal"

The arresting, short, sinister brass fanfare that opens the score in cue 1, is quickly followed by a few creepy low string chords and both are strongly contrasted by buffoonish bassoons which quickly deflate the pomposity and quieten the terror. In fact, in the main, it is the woodwinds that are assigned most of the comic parts while braying, rasping brass and lower strings are given more threatening, darkish material. A major feature of the film was the exquisite colour photography of the New England location, dressed in all its ravishing Fall tints. Herrmann's pastoral evocations have an appropriate Autumnal glow. The cue Autumn is warm, gentle and nostalgic. So, too, are the cues "Harvest Eve" and "The Phantomn Coach" with gentle harp arpeggios, the prevailing serenity threatened only by a few passing shadows. The theme assigned to "The Captain", which is very lyrical, is reminiscent of Vaughan Williams (Herrmann was a very keen Anglophile and very keen on British music); it has, too, a hint of sea shanties and deep mysterious waters. RVW's influence is very prevalent in the pastoral-like "Tea Time". It is interesting that this melody, the most lyrical in the whole score, is given to the Captain rather than to Jennifer (the Shirley MacLaine character) The "Jennifer" cue is rather furtive and it anticipates a theme from Psycho. There is a collection of contrasting waltzes that make up three consecutive cues: "Waltz Macabre" that really lives up to its title, a lovely "Waltz Reprise" which has that Edwardian cosiness of The Magnificent Ambersons score, and "Valse Lent" which is a jerky, comically grotesque piece that is barely a waltz - and it has a heavily ironic cuckoo figure. Child-like figures for the little boy are effectively counterpointed with some of the most malicious music in the score, in "The Burial" but that cuckoo figure triumphs reminding us that it is all in fun.

The album has 40 cues many very short and all shorter than two minutes. Many will make you smile. One of Herrmann's most delightful scores. Reviewer

Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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