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“Music from Great Shakespearean Films” = by SHOSTAKOVICH; WALTON; ROZSA – National Philharmonic Orch./ Bernard Herrmann – HDTT

“Music from Great Shakespearean Films” = SHOSTAKOVICH;  WALTON;  ROZSA – National Philharmonic Orch./ Bernard Herrmann – HDTT [various formats incl. hi-res stereo PCM & DSD from www.highdeftapetransfers.com], 44:10 ****:

Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), like Shostakovich, Walton and Rozsa was equally at home writing for the screen as for the concert hall.  In addition, Herrmann was a very busy conductor – at one time considered for a post with the London Symphony Orchestra after a very successful series of concerts in 1956.

Decca, for their Phase 4 series, engaged Herrmann over a number of years to make recordings of his own music for films, a hugely satisfying set of four recordings, on its own a testament to his being rather more than a dabbler in this medium, and of concert and film music by other composers.  These later Phase 4 recordings were not quite as obviously multi-miked as earlier ones, and many still sound first-class today.

Shostakovich’s score for Hamlet dates from 1964 and appears on this release arranged into a suite, following the order of the play.  The music unsurprisingly suggests impending tragedy from the beginning; if the slashing opening chords don’t sound as if in an entirely natural acoustic, they sound much the same on Decca’s own CD, too.  Herrmann’s performance is suitably weighty.  Ball at the Palace is, on the other hand, very light on its toes, the very fine National Philharmonic playing the scurrying motifs with powerful virtuosity.  The Ghost appears with all the doom one can imagine and the Poisoning and Scene of the Players reek of evil.  Those wanting to hear more from Hamlet can supplement this Op 116a Suite with Naxos’s complete film score, incidentally still available new on SACD from independent sellers.

Sir William Walton’s score for Olivier’s Richard III contains the wicked marking ‘Con prosciuto, agnello e confitura di fragiole’ in response for the director’s request for a ceremonial prelude, no doubt an amused riposte to some sudden working to a deadline.  And typically English it is, too, though untypically, Herrmann makes heavy weather of this Prelude.  I wonder whether a Herrmann ten years younger would have adopted the same tempo which is getting on for half of that by Marriner and Walton himself on the original soundtrack or on his 1964 studio recording.

Miklós Rózsa’s score for Julius Caesar was written for the 1953 film directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, produced by John Houseman, and starring Marlon Brando, John Gielgud, James Mason, Greer Garson and Deborah Kerr.  Rózsa produces a grand score to match these mid-century stars, and Herrmann’s direction emphasises this with another powerful performance.

HDTT has cast its spell on a commercial reel to produce sound of excellent quality.  I compared 24/96 FLACs with the 16-bit ones from my own Decca CD which by comparison sound just a bit thinner using the same equipment.  Those interested can choose from even higher grade PCM or DSD files according to their preference.  Not a generous programme by any means, it does replicate what was on the original LP and commercial reel. [On the original RCA CD, in Dolby Surround…Ed.]

A largely fine tribute to Bernard Herrmann can be recommended with enthusiasm.

Tracklist:

01 Hamlet – The Introduction

02 Hamlet – Ball at the Palace

03 Hamlet – The Ghost

04 Hamlet – Scene of the Poisoning

05 Hamlet – The Arrival and Scene of the Players

06 Hamlet – The Duel and Death of Hamlet

07 Prelude: Richard III

08 Julius Caesar – The Ides of March

09 Julius Caesar – Caesar’s Ghost

10 Julius Caesar – Approach of Octavian’s Army and Death of Brutus

—Peter Joelson

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