September 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /Sept01/

EDITOR’s CHOICE September 2001



Bernard HERRMANN The Snows of Kilimanjaro. 5 Fingers William Stromberg conducts The Moscow Symphony Orchestra MARCO POLO 8.225168 [66:27]


This latest release in Marco Polo's Classical Film Scores series is of considerable academic interest. Now that might sound a strange opening for a review, particularly since I have placed it as my Editor's Choice this month. Nobody would argue that Herrmann's music works supremely well with on-screen images and these two scores from 20th Century Fox opuses dating back to 1952 are no exception but they are not the most compelling or easiest of listening experiences. The score for 5 Fingers has never been recorded before and only a small portion of The Snows of Kilimanjaro - i.e. only the most accessible music contained in 'Memory Waltz' and little else has been committed to disc. As John Morgan admits, "Much of the music is static in nature and, typically of Herrmann, short musical "cells" are repeated with only slight orchestral variations and key changes." Yet as Morgan then goes on to qualify, "Bill (Stromberg)…brought a subtle undercurrent of tension throughout, and his sense of musical form and line always kept a forward propulsion in the music ongoing." It is this dedication that makes this album the success it is and there is much to reward the patient listener who will discover more and more riches on repeated hearings.

'Memory Waltz' is given a most sympathetic and sensitive reading here. (How well the Moscow Symphony Orchestra now responds to the era and the special requirements of these classic film scores.) I was struck, in this instance, more than by any previous recording, by the way this cue represents a line of development stemming back to The Magnificent Ambersons music - bittersweet and nostalgic, redolent of regret and remorse. There are few tuttis and these are usually short dramatic eruptions: 'The Fall', for instance, is the frantic outburst accompanying Ava Gardener as she 'falls' downstairs thus terminating her pregnancy when she senses that her lover Gregory Peck does not want to be tied down; and the frightening aspect of the 'Witch Doctor'. Even the romantic music for 'Helen' has either an enigmatic non-committal air about it, 'Barcarolle' (for 'Frigid Liz', the Hildegard Neff character) and a dejected aspect for the love of 'Helen' (Susan Hayward) despite her obvious patience and devotion.

5 Fingers has a powerful 'Prelude' - full of portent and intrigue. Again much of the music has that static quality as it accompanies James Mason, the nonchalant Cicero, as man with no loyalties, except to money, goes about his quiet, furtive way, with unruffled nerve photographing secret documents (brilliantly suggested in 'Alone' and 'The Film') to sell to the Nazis. That is not to say that this score has no thrills; 'Departure' and 'The Pursuit' have plenty of tension especially as Cicero is followed through the streets of Ankara by the British Military Police. Once more we have romantic music of disillusion for Herrmann soon makes it clear that Cicero's accomplice (Danielle Darrieaux) will inevitably betray the betrayer. 'The Old Street' exotically orchestrated is very atmospheric too.

One of the chief interests in the 5 Fingers score is that it pre-echoes so much of Herrmann's work for future Hitchcock thrillers especially Psycho and Vertigo and North by Northwest

Lesser-known scores from Herrmann requiring some work from the listener but the rewards are well worth it.

Snows of Kilimanjaro 5 Fingers

Ian Lace


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