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CD Reviews: Bernard Herrmann Compilation and Fitzwilly

Bernard Herrmann Film Scores: From Citizen Kane to Taxi Driver ****


Milan M2-36095

11 tracks - 69:57

With the recent passing of Elmer Bernstein, the good folks at Milan have seen fit to re-release a wonderful recording of theirs from 1992 which features Mr. Bernstein conducting several suites from many of Bernard Herrmann's scores. While it may seem like they're trying to cash in on his name (which appears much larger on the new artwork), let's give them the benefit of a doubt and concentrate on the album itself.

Many of you may already be familiar with this collection, which was available between 1993 and 2000. We'll get to the sonic differences between the old and new, but first let's begin with the music for those who don't already own it.

Beginning with Herrmann's first score, Citizen Kane, we take a journey through the career of one of Hollywood's most revered composers. The short, but deliciously twisted "Devil's Concerto" from The Devil and Daniel Webster showcases the composer's musical humor. We're also treated to impressive renditions of cues from the five Hitchcock collaborations, as well as two films he did with Francois Truffaut. Finally, Herrmann's ominous score from Scorcese's Taxi Driver closes the musical portion of the album.

Musical portion? Yes, included as a coda to the album's music tracks is a four- and-a-half-minute speech given by Herrmann on film music. This final track was recorded during the early 1970s and lets us take a peek into the mind of the man himself. Hear in his own words what he thinks about the use of music in films!

But let's not forget Elmer Bernstein's contribution, which seems to be the basis for this re-release. Throughout the ample running time, he masterfully guides the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through all the many styles on hand, capturing the right moods appropriate for each film's score. While picky listeners may argue that his tempos sometimes shift a little compared to the original soundtracks, it's the spirit of the music that he maintains. Who cares if it's the right tempo if it feels wrong? Rest assured, Elmer knew what he was doing. Herrmann's dark, yet beautiful writing comes through in all its enticing glory.

Compared to the original release, which has the exact same tracks, the new edition sports a remastering job that raises some questions. Overall, it's significantly louder. The sound of the recording venue's reverb and even the quietest musical notes are more easily heard, but at the sacrifice of the overall excitement the music. The string tone is silkier compared to the original, but the dynamic control of the orchestra is out of Mr. Bernstein's hands and into those of the mastering engineer. Make no mistake, this remastering did more damage than good.

Despite my criticisms about the remastering, I am still glad that this recording is back in circulation. If you already own the original, my advice is to hang on to it. But if you don't, try and find the original or at least get this re-release. Either way, no decent film score collection should be without this important title.     -- Ian D. Thomas

Fitzwilly/The Long Goodbye (1967/1973) ***


Varèse Sarabande CD Club VCL 0804 1030

18 tracks - 55:20

Fitzwilly comes from John Williams' 1960s period of screwball comedy scoring (a proud time for him I'm sure) and actually represents some of the best work he wrote in the genre. As per usual for John Williams' comedies, the work is largely big band/jazz-based, adding a touch of class to the proceedings. Classical touches such as harpsichord also serve to reference the upper class society that the film's characters inhabit.

The film's main theme, introduced in the "Main Title," is catchy and light, yet indicative of what the maestro would provide in later years for more serious fare. The theme also gets wonderful treatment in "The Gimbels Robbery," a mini tour de force from Williams. The cue starts low and lightly suspenseful, steadily building in intensity as a march-like rhythm takes over with the main theme and then ends in a flourish.

Fitzwilly also contains the origin of the most overt case of self-plagiarism in the John Williams canon. The love theme, "Make Me Rainbows" (which has very corny lyrics but is quite lovely in instrumental form), would later become, virtually unchanged note for note, "Moonlight" from Sabrina. Although the tune is the same, the orchestrations are still significantly different -- I guess Mr. Williams just liked the theme too much to be wasted on this forgettable film.

The disc features the exact same tracks as were on the original LP, and not having seen the film, I can't say if there's much unreleased material from Fitzwilly. However, The Long Goodbye was very sparsely spotted, one of Johnny's shortest scores, and I can say this is surely the entire score, or very close to it. Williams scored this Robert Altman revision of the Philip Marlowe tale (in which we get to see young and buff Arnold Schwarzenegger in his briefs, before he would be in charge of one of the world's largest economies) almost entirely with variations of the song "The Long Goodbye," a la David Raksin's Laura.

The music serves almost entirely as source music, and mostly in a very classy jazz-vein. The mournful and melancholy song "The Long Goodbye" is presented in seven versions on the disc, thrice with vocals and four times as instrumental versions. The disc is re-mastered to high quality, stereo sound, and will probably be of most interest to John Williams completists.     -- Darren MacDonald

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