April 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Day the Earth Stood Still  
Music composed by Bernard Herrmann
  Conducted by Joel McNeely
  Available on Varese Sarabande VSD-6314  
Running time 38.26
Crotchet   Amazon UK   Amazon US

day the earth stood still

As Mark Walker suggested in his review of this album last month, this is a classic score given a new lease of life. Of course it does not sound like the original soundtrack, but then there would be little point if it did. What this new recording does do, with excellent sound, is make available one of Bernard Herrmann's most richly imagined film scores - which is to say one of the most richly imagined film scores ever written - in a way which enables us to hear every detail of the composer's complex, subtle and original orchestrations. This is an intimately epic score, painting the emotional and philosophical landscapes of a large scale story with intricate detail. Herrmann's "futuristic" orchestrations may sound quaint, but only in the sense they were so successful as to define the sound of the science fiction film for the entire decade of the 1950's. This was the sound of America's first serious big screen encounter with sentient alien life and it began a lineage which develops to this day. One only has to listen to Danny Elfman's affectionate spoof-come-homage Mars Attacks! to realise the importance of this music. With a hand picked orchestra to match the very specific requirements of the score, Joel McNeely and thereminist Celia Sheen wonderfully re-create a vital moment of film history.

That said, though there is tender grandeur in such moments as the Arlington scene, this essentially cold, percussive, cerebral score will not please everyone, and will not always make for the most enjoyable listening to those seeking emotional warmth or action packed adventure. It started a road which led Herrmann into The Twilight Zone - a two CD set of his music from that show has already appeared on Varèse Sarabande - and to his fine score for Fahrenheit 451. In more recent years its closest descendent may be Michael Nyman's distant yet paradoxically moving score for Gattaca. For this score's place in film music history this album belongs in every serious collection, yet this is not just one for the archive, providing a most rewarding listening experience for those given to its enigmatic yet in some senses, due to the presence of the theremin, retro charm.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

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