BERNARD HERRMANN : The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann – Nat. Philharmonia Orch. – HDTT

Bernard Herrmann film scores in startling surround sound!

BERNARD HERRMANN :  The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann –  Journey to the Center of the Earth;  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad;  The Day The Earth Stood Still;  Fahrenheit 451 – National Philharmonic Orch./ Bernard Herrmann – HDTT [various formats including hi-res 4.0 Surround Blu-ray audio and PCM stereo PCM & DSD from www.highdeftapetransfers.com] 46:09 ****:

Using the same orchestra which played under Charles Gerhardt in RCA Victor’s Classic Film Scores series, Bernard Herrmann is at the helm for this release, one of seven featuring film music which he put together for Decca in the early 1970s.  Besides writing a good deal of music for the concert hall and for the movies, Herrmann had a long and successful career as a conductor in the US and UK.  At one stage during the mid-1950s, he had so impressed the London Symphony Orchestra during a series of concerts which included Charles Ives’ Second, that he was in line for the job of chief conductor.

Herrmann remains most well-known these days for his film scores.  Over the years he collaborated with Orson Welles,  Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, and finally worked with Martin Scorcese.  Harry Levin directed Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1959, a blockbuster starring Pat Boone and James Mason with Arlene Dahl and Diane Baker.  Lush, big-boned and interesting orchestration helps to underpin the action here,  though music of this quality is quite capable of standing on its own. The orchestra has an unusual collection of instruments – several harps, what sounds like an ophicleide, and what could have been rather off-putting, but seems to have been a good decision, a couple of Hammond B-3 organs.  The effect is extraordinary, and powerful.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad was directed by Nathan Juran and featured Katherine Grant and Kerwin Mathews in the leads.  A big and energetic overture sets the scene, and the suite is notable for percussion used in the duel with the skeletons.  While Ray Harryhausen’s effects seem from another era, and far removed from modern CGI, they still give much pleasure!

Robert Wise directed The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951, a very successful science fiction movie made in the wake of the Roswell incident. (Considered by many the best sci-fi film ever made…Ed.)  The original scoring again used interesting and unusual combinations, electric string instruments, a couple of theremins and organs, accompanying Patricia Neal, Michael Rennie, as well as Lock Martin who played Gort, the visitor from another planet.

François Truffaut directed Fahrenheit 451 based on a Ray Bradbury novel, a story about a dystopian future.  Fine acting by Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack and Anton Diffring is underpinned by a score (recorded in full by William Stromberg on Tribute Film Classics) using strings and tuned percussion in the main, making for some of Herrmann’s loveliest film music.

The National Philharmonic plays with its usual aplomb and commitment. Herrmann’s tempi, on the whole, are a little slower than those on the film soundtracks, perhaps due to his heart condition at the time.  For listening purposes, I selected the 4.0 24-192 FLACs and was pleased indeed to hear this recording for the first time in surround sound.  Later Decca Phase 4 recordings were rather more refined and less gimmicky than the early ones, and this production, made by Raymond and Arthur Lilley, sounded remarkably well.  Recorded during November 1974 in Kingsway Hall, London, the results are very fine, and almost in the same league as those RCA Victor Film Classics (which were Dolby Surround encoded).

A fine release by HDTT, especially valuable for introducing the surround option for the first time since the reel tape was released.

—Peter Joelson

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