January 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

Bernard HERRMANN Citizen Kane   Joel McNeely conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra   VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5806 [53:01]

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Varese-Sarabande is the Rolls Royce of film score record companies. Their documentation and design is excellent. Technical qualities are high and performances sympathetic. The RSNO are seasoned adepts when it comes to re-recording and the City Halls, Glasgow now often resound to musico-cinematic glories of times gone by. The City fathers must be pleased, as must the RSNO bankers.

The orchestra goes from strength to strength although its concert glory days coincided with the tenure of Neeme Järvi. His departure hit the orchestra hard. I recall Michael Tumeltys Glasgow Herald reviews of concerts during the J4rvi days. The orchestras management should have pleaded with J4rvi to stay in much the same way as the BBCSO should have when Rozhdestvensky packed his bags during the 1980s. I digress - nothing new there.

V-Ss usual strengths are on display but the whole, while alive to the subtle shift and glow of the texture, does not captivate me. For comparison I went back to the very generous Australian LABEL X coupling of 37.30 of music from Kane and 39.10 from The Magnificent Ambersons. The LABEL X account has a greater sense of fluency and musical give and take. Listen to track 4’s ‘Snow Picture’ which ought to be the very peak of ecstatic release. In practice it seems rather stilted like an actor reading his lines rather than emoting. This is by no means the only example.

The Aussie disc has terrific emotional concentration and must be my first recommendation. The V-S is never less than good and technically it is notches above the Aussie. In the Aria it has a better voice in Janice Watson than Rosamund Illing on Label X. Watson seems secure and never outfaced by the Sibelian accents of this most grandiloquent aria. Whenever I hear this I wish Herrmann had actually written the rest of the opera.

As the most exhaustive document of the Kane score you will find no competition. This must surely be the fullest record of the score: 37 individual tracks plus three bonus tracks. Set against this the 15 tracks (and sixteen minutes less music) on Label X. I suppose that it is rather unfair to compare the two since they are not an exact match and Label X includes a very major slice of the Ambersons music. However from a purely musical point of view Label X carries the day delivering a more satisfyingly rounded experience than the Varese-Sarabande. I did not feel unduly deprived by the lack of the just over quarter of an hour of music on Label X. Of course the Label X also comes with most of the Ambersons music - two scores for the price of one.

Quick summary: Varese-Sarabande - good, brilliant technically, first class document of the score; Label X - great performances, so-so technically but never less than good ... and comes with the Amberson music. BMG-RCA Gerhardt suite - the best musically, even less music than Label X, but sheer magic. Overall recommendation: get the Label X if you can find it.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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