Herrmann: The Essential Film Music Collection> is the latest entry in Silva Screen’s series
of 2CD sets devoted to famous film composers. Previous entries have been
devoted to, among others, Elmer Bernstein, Maurice Jarre, Alfred Newman and
Nino Rota. This Herrmann collection is not only the best I have heard so far
from this series, but among the very best of the many Herrmann anthologies I
have listened to over the thirty years since I became a fan of the composer.
genius is such that it can not be fully represented on any one album, but this
set, running 2 hours and twenty minutes has the advantage of time over the
usual single disc (or even LP) set to be able to give a much more comprehensive
portrait than is regularly heard in such anthologies. Every facet of Herrmann’s
film music is represented in a chronological survey that not only covers the
majority of the major scores but also finds space for some rarities that tend
to be overlooked. Thus it is something of a surprise to find the prelude from The
Naked and the Dead and ‘Theme & Variations’ from Twisted Nerve.
(Sometimes rarities are such for a reason.) Conversely omissions one expects to
be included are The Magnificent Ambersons, The Devil and Daniel Webster,
Anna and The King of Siam, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef and Journey to the
Center of the Earth.
presentation is effective because it breaks the music up well to represent
different aspects of Herrmann’s musical personality. Rather than a disc
comprising all fantasy music, or all Hitchcock thrillers, or all romance, there
is a pleasing balance that makes the lengthy listen constantly invigorating.
For instance, the melancholy romance of The Ghost and Mrs Muir gives way
to the thrilling ferocity of On Dangerous Ground. This in turn leads to
the other worldly textures of The Day The Earth Stood Still, which takes
us into more haunting melancholy with The Snows of Kilimanjaro, before a
whimsical ‘Portrait of Hitch’ from The Trouble With Harry. Those who
think Herrmann only did dark suspense will rapidly need to revise their
To keep this
fairly short let’s just say, as a glimpse at the track list will confirm, that
there is some of the best film music ever composed re-recorded on this album.
Much of it many FMOTW readers will already have in one version or another. Yet
the performances hold their own against the best previous recordings. The City
of Prague Philharmonic have excelled themselves here, proving to be a first
rate film music band truly capable of capturing the unique, sometimes
astringent, otherwise ethereal, at times blisteringly exciting Herrmann sound.
The extensive fourteen-minute suite from On Dangerous Ground has
fabulously thrilling brass playing and an impact, a sense of danger: the
original soundtrack can never begin to match. This is the best version of this
music I have ever heard, and alone is worth the price of admission.
likewise are full and detailed, and will please those who object to ‘classical’
style recordings of film music and those recordings wherein the music seems to
fade into a haze of reverberation. Not so here. Everything is pin-sharp, bold
and dynamic. The present set grew out of two Silva Screen Hitchcock albums,
which as FMOTW’s own David Wishart notes, obviously contained a lot of
Herrmann. From there came the idea to make up a full 2CD set. The recordings
therefore date from 1994-2005, with the majority being made in 1999. Regarding
the impact of the recordings David Wishart notes: “Of course the thing is
though that with modern mastering techniques – and with the implementation of a
little compression, the recordings have become ‘more powerful’ than even the
original sessions might have suggested. James (Fitzpatrick) is a whiz at
Other highlights? The
Ghost and Mrs Muir is sublime, The Snows of Kilmanjaro almost
painful in its romantic intensity. The action and fantasy of North By North
West and Mysterious Island deliver a compulsive musical
rollercoaster, and Fahrenheit 451 is as tender yet icy as this music
should always be.
Does the set have
any failings? Within the limitations of a 2CD set, not at all. One can always
argue over the selections, but on balance the pieces here are very well chosen.
On a personal level I would have liked rather more than 1.47 from what will
always remain my favourite Herrmann score, Obsession. But that’s just
because it’s the picture that got me into film music in the first place, and it
always struck me as an injustice that this excellent movie was overshadowed by
the mediocre Taxi Driver. The overshadowing continues here, with the
disc closing with the eight minute long ‘Night Piece for Orchestra’. Gorgeous
music, shame about the film.
I could live
without the irritating whistling theme from Twisted Nerve – most likely
included here because of its recycling in Kill Bill – a fact noted in
larger type on the booklet cover than the titles of Citizen Kane, Vertigo,
Cape Fear and North by North West. To be fair, in his excellent
booklet notes David Wishart does say listeners tend to find the music either
catchy or ‘pitifully annoying’. Call me pitiful… But then set those niggles
against the over two hours of outstanding recordings here and there really is
nothing to put the prospective buyer off. (Well, unless you really object to
the words Kill and Bill used in conjunction on a Herrmann anthology.) But
seriously, this really is a superb set, with On Dangerous Ground proving
one of the most exciting film music recordings anyone is likely to find this or
any other year.
Michael McLennan adds:-
There seems little
in the way of practical comment I can add to Gary’s review. For me, this was
the first time I’d heard The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Fahrenheit 451, Snows of
Kilimanjaro and many others. I knew On Dangerous Ground only through
a re-recording of ‘Death Hunt’, so this was a valuable chance to hear more of
that incredible score. I came off the first listen to disc one floating with
inspiration – Herrmann’s talents were truly impossible to exaggerate. For those
who want to broaden their understanding of the irritable Maestro, this
chronological presentation of his career is a great way to approach him. Yes,
there could always be more – more Obsession, more Devil and Daniel
Webster, more Magnificent Ambersons, but there’s a limit to these
things, and even if they were all on there, I’m sure someone would be asking
for Battle of Neretva or ‘Chariot Chase’ from The Egyptian. (That
someone would be me. Bring on the three-disc version!)
A couple of warnings
though. This music has naturally appeared on a number of Silva Screen
compilations over the years, including Torn Curtain: The Classic Film Music
of Bernard Herrmann (Silva America SSD 1051) and Citizen Kane: The
Essential Film Music of Bernard Herrmann (Silva Screen, 2CDs, FILMXCD308).
If you’ve drunk of Silva’s Herrmann collection of recordings before, rest
assured, this album has too. Which doesn’t detract at all from it being a
superb collection, especially if you didn’t buy either of those. A link to Ian
Lace’s review of the Citizen Kane compilation shows how much we liked it
back then in its earlier incarnation.
The other thing to
warn is that those who normally dismiss film music re-recordings by the City of
Prague Philharmonic should sit back and re-assess their position after hearing
this. The execution is strong throughout – superb in a number of places, well
on par with previous recordings by Herrmann himself and Elmer Bernstein. I
personally prefer the acoustics and performance of Charles Gerhardt with the
National Philharmonic Orchestra (‘The Death Hunt’ will never sound better than
on RCA Victor 0707-2-RG), or Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Los Angeles
Philharmonic (the incredible release on Sony Classical SK 62700 – an essential
for Herrmann collectors), but Paul Bateman’s work here and the mixing by James
Fitzpatrick never had me reaching for the ‘stop’ button and my Herrmann shelf.
And those releases don’t beat this one for the breadth of career overview.
One of those
releases that well deserves the label ‘Essential’.