Herrmann – A Concert of American Music = IVES: Symphony No. 2; BENNETT: Violin Concerto in A “in the Popular Style”; HERRMANN: Welles Raises Kane – Louis Kaufman, violin/London Symphony Orchestra/CBS Studio Orchestra/Bernard Herrmann – Pristine Audio

by | Jul 19, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Bernard Herrmann – A Concert of American Music = IVES: Symphony No. 2; BENNETT: Violin Concerto in A “In the Popular Style”; HERRMANN: Welles Raises Kane–Suite – Louis Kaufman, violin/ London Symphony Orchestra/CBS Studio Orchestra (Kane Suite) /Bernard Herrmann

Pristine Audio PASC 232, 76:44 [in various formats at www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

While we tend to associate Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) with Hollywood scores– especially in high piercing string chords while Janet Leigh takes a shower at the Bates Motel–Herrmann enjoyed a flourishing radio career as host and leader of the CBS Orchestra in shows like Invitation to Music and Exploring Music, often introducing the public to new scores in quantities that exceeded the efforts of more flamboyant personalities like Leopold Stokowski.  

Herrmann leads the London Symphony–which we can see in living color (different music) in Hitchcock’s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much–in the UK premier of the Charles Ives Symphony No. 2 (1897-1901), a work long suppressed until Leonard Bernstein led his own cut edition in 1955. Herrmann (25 April 1956) offers a lush heartfelt rendition of this eclectic score, rife as it is with folk tunes hymn tunes and Bach chorales–like Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, Bringing in the Sheaves, Camptown Races, America the Beautiful–and passing references to Beethoven’s Fifth and the Brahms C Minor Symphony. The effect rather recalls Twain’s claim in The Innocents Abroad, that American culture resulted from selected piracies from Europe spliced to home-grown populism. In five luxuriant romantic movements, the score segues directly from the Lento maestoso fourth movement into the Allegro molto vivace finale, with its rousing finale in jingoistic pageantry.

The studio performance of the four-movement concerto (1941) by Robert Russell Bennett (20 May 1956) proffers an airy good-natured work, folksy and pliant, the scoring often placing the solo violin against harp and transparent woodwinds. Some of the melodic tissue sounds like the Nielsen Concerto, but that is likely coincidental. Much of the first movement has an aggressive energy reminiscent of a good square dance. This performance also marks its UK broadcast premier, the kind of event at which solo Louis Kaufman excelled. Bennett’s own penchant for movie sentiment infiltrates the Andante moderato, since Bennett (1894-1981) enjoyed a full arsenal of Southern United States rhetorical devices, and his melody can strut or sachet as it sees fit. The brief Vivace strikes us with brilliant and tumultuous battery effects against a wild banshee violin, shades of Stravinsky and Prokofiev. This flash of lightning leads to an ominous opening to the last movement, Allegro non troppo, but its high whines and clanky bass sound raucous on the outside but really craves for the lyric element that acts as a sweet foil to the hurly-burly that resumes and sweeps us along to the resounding coda.

The suite Welles Raises Kane (3 July 1949) has a subtitle, “A Divertissement of the Gay Nineties,” and Herrmann called Orson Welles “the last of the great Victorians.” The five sections derive from Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, the second movement a theme and variations on a tune by Waldteufel. This delicate music raises the specter of Joseph Cotten seated in a brougham with Dolores Costello. A Ragtime constitutes the third movement–the music from Kane’s newspaper office and the famed part for former members The Chronicle–and the last movements insinuate the dances of the Gay Nineties. The opening Overture instantly recalls Kane’s takeover of a provincial newspaper to turn it into the pride of Yellow Journalism. The Meditation could have been lifted from Massenet or an intermezzo from Bizet’s Carmen. Altogether, a charming and indubitably authentic homage to the greatest moment of American cinema.

— Gary Lemco