Classical CD Reviews

“Music for Alfred Hitchcock” = HERRMANN, WAXMAN, TIOMKIN, ELFMAN – Danish Nat. Sym. Orch./ John Mauceri – Toccata Classics

Some of the best symphonic scores for Hitchcock movies, including some first recordings.

Published on August 27, 2014

“Music for Alfred Hitchcock” = HERRMANN, WAXMAN, TIOMKIN, ELFMAN – Danish Nat. Sym. Orch./ John Mauceri – Toccata Classics

“Music for Alfred Hitchcock” = BERNARD HERRMANN: Overture to The Man Who Knew Too Much; Two sel. from Vertigo; North by Northwest main titles; Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra; FRANZ WAXMAN: Rebecca Suite; Rear Window Suite; DIMTRI TIOMKIN: Strangers on a Train Suite; Dial M for Murder Suite; Arthur Benjamin: Cantata from The Man Who Knew Too Much; DANNY ELFMAN: End Credit music frtom Hitchcock – Danish Nat. Sym. Orch./ John Mauceri – Toccata Classics TOCC 0241, 81:00 (Distr. by Naxos) [8/12/14] *****:

Wow, what a terrific filmscore album, containing four recording premieres: The opening Overture, the two suites of filmscore music by Dmitri Tiomkin, and the nearly 16-minute Narrative for Strings on the themes of Psycho, which was restored and edited by Mauceri himself. This filmscore CD is so good it seems to qualify for a review by itself instead of in our next soundtrack CDs feature. The CD shows first of all that Herrmann wasn’t the only composer who scored the Hitchcock films, and also demonstrates the extremely wide variety of musical styles—from Baroque and jazz to dark Romanticism and angst—which Hitchcock matched perfectly to his films, using several different composers.

The booklet, by John Mauceri and John Riley, has all sorts of fascinating information about Hitchcock and the various composers he used. His most-used composer, Herrmann, first came to public fame doing the music for Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater production of War of the Worlds in 1939. He ended up doing seven Hitchcock films, as well as 17 episodes of the Hitchcock Hour TV series. He also got a credit for The Birds, though most of its score was created on the trautonium by Oscar Sala. They had a big falling-out during the scoring of Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain in 1966 and he wasn’t used again.

Hermann loved to create music for doomed and misguided love, so he had a ball with Vertigo, drawing on Wagner’s musical world of Tristan. Hitchcock liked to deal with the theme of an innocent man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and in North by Northwest he and Cary Grant pulled out all the stops. There is only less than three minutes of music from that film on the CD, however.  The  musical effects of Hitchcock’s Psycho—which the recent Hitchcock documentary centered on—tied-in with what was happening onscreen almost more than any other Hitchcock film.  Hermann extracted concert suites from some of his film scores.  Perhaps the longest is the Psycho work for strings, which Maurceri has restored and brought to us on this disc. It uses nine different themes from the film, with the familiar shower scene music an unforgettable part of it. (Hitchcock had originally intended to have no music at all for that scene, but Herrmann’s music convinced him otherwise.)

Another longer selection on the CD is the cantata The Storm Clouds, which was originally composed by Arthur Benjamin for the first film of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which Hitchcock had done in Britain. When he re-did that film in Hollywood, for the first time, he had Bernard Herrmann re-arrange the cantata, which is used during the scene of an attempted assassination in the film. Herrmann himself was the conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra during the cantata performance.  Danny Elfman had scored the awful Gus van Sant remake of Psycho in 1998, and he was engaged to do the score for the Hitchcock documentary. He doesn’t use Herrmann’s music directly, but enjoys plenty of ostinatos and oscillations of the instruments that may remind one of Vertigo. His End Credits opens with Gounod’s Funeral March for a Marionette, which was the theme of Hitchcock’s TV series.  Too bad this isn’t on SACD or Blu-ray, but even the audiophiles will like it anyway.

—John Sunier




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