Hangover Square & Citizen Kane/Herrmann

February 22, 2010

It is very likely that because Herrmann always referred to himself as a composer who worked in films like Copland, Vaughan Williams, and Walton he was offered the film assignment on Hangover Square the story of a concert pianist of unsound mind who kills the woman who rejects his advances. Patrick Hamilton, who also wrote Gaslight and Rope as plays which became Hollywood movies, had his novel completely changed by Zanuck who had become convinced that instead of a story of an alcoholic loner (thus the title) he would change it to a story of a schizophrenic concert pianist. The Hamilton story was quite well written given the fact that Patrick was an alcoholic and I’m sure a lot of what he wrote was based on real life experiences. The John Brahm film starred Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell and George Sanders. Cregar, who finally achieved top billing and brought the idea to Czar Zanuck, was to act no more. While filming he embarked on a crash diet campaign lost nearly 100 pounds and was scheduled for an operation to further reduce his weight by preventing the intake of large amounts of food and died of a heart attack at the age of 31. The result of the story of the film was the famous “Concerto Macabre” from Herrmann, a dark and mysterious 11 minute piano piece written in the style of the Liszt piece “Totentanz,” his work based on the famous horror theme “Dies Irae.” The concerto for concert performance is based on the themes that you hear in the original soundtrack and is performed by Martin Roscoe using revisions by Norma Shepherd in 1992 based on Herrmann’s revision for use in concert performance.

Stephen Hogger, working from the original manuscripts, took the 20 tracks (Herrmann loved short cues) and put them into 3 cues in the 4 to 6 minute range (17 minutes total) so the average listener finds it easier to listen to. Herrmann wrote incredible underscore and as is the case with other scores he did listening to it in the film is the best way to enjoy it. While Hogger did a fine job he failed to capture the true essence of the music away from the film. While this should not prevent you from purchasing this excellent release from Chandos, Herrmann’s music is usually best enjoyed in the film itself. The score opens with the main theme on the piano and quickly transitions to the brass with some of those recognizable Herrmann chords. Much of the material is played softly in the lower register using woodwinds complemented by the brass chords. The bass clarinet seemed to be a standard instrument for Bernard! Much of what you hear will have a similar sound to many of his more recognizable scores such as “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,” “Vertigo,” “Citizen Kane,” and others. It is yet another excellent example of how effective the underscore material works in films. Unlike Max “Wall to Wall” Steiner, Herrmann believed that less was sometimes better.

There are currently five additional recordings of the concerto to the best of my knowledge in addition to the one featured in this review. Roscoe’s recording has the advantage of being the last to be recorded thus it offers the latest in the Chandos engineering as well as 24-bit/96kHz digital. The performance is delicate when necessary as well as powerful when called for. The orchestra does a fine job to complement the piece with good brass, timpani, and strings. Roscoe knows the piece and gives a strong performance. You also have the advantage of getting the seventeen minute suite as well as the music from Citizen Kane.

A strong word of caution with the Achucarro/Gerhardt recording! Make sure that you seek out the non dolby surround recording as it has far better sound at least on a traditional stereo system. I noted the correct CD number to obtain. The Gerhardt has the advantage of offering a fine compilation of some material from Herrmann not played as often such as White Witch Doctor, Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef, and On Dangerous Ground. The orchestra is top notch and Achucarro knows the piece and gives a good performance.

The Fowke performance is strong but suffers from a weaker orchestral backing from the RTE orchestra. It is a digital recording but doesn’t quite have the bite the Chandos recording offers. However, it offers several of the concertos written for movies such as Spellbound, Murder on the Orient Express, Warsaw, and others in a value package from Naxos. You really don’t feel like your listening to a soundtrack but concert piano music in a broad variety.

Ignace Hilsberg offers a very strong performance with positive hard strokes and the 20th Century Fox Orchestra conducted by Herrmann is top drawer giving the best backing to the concerto. However, the recording sounds like less than and parts are completely lost in the crackle of the recording.

The Buechner reading is more than adequate however I found the orchestral backing a bit on the thin side. The bite from the brass lacked the necessary bite and I found the timpani somewhat muddy and less distinct than on the Chandos recording. To complicate matters the Koch label is now defunct and difficult to find. There were parts where I felt that the orchestra played too loudly and drowned out the piano not how it should have been performed.

The Rabinowitsh reading with Werner Janssen had a completely different pace at the beginning almost to the point that it took me a few seconds to readjust my brain. It sounded like it should have been played at 45RPM and not the standard 33 1/3! However the tempo did pickup and the playing and tempo were fine. The recording itself has suffered from age and it is really not available except at high prices for collectors of Herrmann who want everything they can get their hands on.

Citizen Kane, listed by some as the greatest film of all time, was an Oscar nominee on the very first try for Herrmann who said “I was fortunate enough to start my career with a film like Citizen Kane. It’s been a downhill run ever since!” The score has been recorded complete or on a compilation (41) times as of 02/10 in the Soundtrack Collector database. To give the work a better flow Stephen Hogger arranged 36 of the cues into (7) tracks totaling 49 minutes. Using the “Dies Irae” melody ( what else for a dark mysterious opening), the cleverly written “Prelude” tells the entire story of the film including the “Rosebud” theme performed on the vibraphone. If you listen carefully you can hear a small part of his Twilight Zone theme. The famous “Salammbo’s Aria,” to some soundtrack enthusiasts the only opera they’ve ever heard, is nicely performed by soprano Orla Boylan. The actual performance on the soundtrack was composed and performed so that it sounded like it fell short but this cue is hardly the case. While this doesn’t capture the true essence of his score and is better listened to in the film, it is nonetheless a pleasant way to listen to the material. I can almost always recommend Chandos Movie releases and this is no exception.

Discography of Reviewed Recordings of Concerto Macabre:

1….Martin Roscoe playing with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon Gamba (Chandos 10577) DDD recording from 2010

2….Joaquin Achucarro playing with the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt (RCA GD 80707) ADD recording from 1974

3….Philip Fowke playing with the RTE Concert Orchestra conducted by Proinnsias O’Duinn (Naxos 8.554323) DDD recording from 1995

4….David Buechner playing with the New Zealand Orchestra conducted by James Sedares (Koch Classics 3-7609-2) DDD recording from 1995

5….Ignace Hilsberg playing with the 20th Century Fox Orchestra conducted by Bernard Herrmann (Tsunami 0610) OST mono recording from 1945

6….CM Rabinowitsh playing with the Janssen Symphony of Los Angeles conducted by Werner Janssen (Camden CAL 205) (Cinema LP 8006) Analog LP recording from 1955. The same recording to the best of my knowledge.

Music from ‘Hangover Square’ 17:05

Arranged from the original manuscripts by Stephen Hogger

1 Opening Titles. Molto appassionato – Slower – 6:21

1. The Dealer. [ ] –

2. Murder and Fire. Moderato – Allegro vivo – Slow –

3. Confession. Slow – Poco a poco accelerando – Più vivo – A tempo

2 7. Netta. Slowly – 4:29

11. The Spell. [ ] –

12. The Murder. Allegro vivo – Slow –

14. Fame. Slow – Rallentando – Valse brillante – Lento

3 17. The Cat. Very slow – 6:05

18. Netta’s Death. Slow – Vivo –

19. The Bonfire. Moderato – Più mosso – Rallentando – Allegro vivo – Accelerando – Slow – Slow – [A tempo] –

20. Recovery. Slow

4 Concerto macabre 11:01

for Piano and Orchestra

A performing edition by Norma Shepherd, 1992, based on the manuscript sources for the film Hangover Square, incorporating the composer’s revisions for concert performance

Molto appassionato – Lento espressivo – Declamato – Agitato –

Martin Roscoe piano

Music from ‘Citizen Kane’ 49:07

Arranged from the original manuscripts by Stephen Hogger

5 1. Prelude. Lento – 8:10

2. Rain (Susan in Nightclub). [ ] –

3. Thatcher Library. Largo –

4. Manuscript Reading and Snow Picture. Slowly –

Allegretto –

5. Mother’s Sacrifice. Lento –

6. Charles Meets Thatcher. Lento – Allargando

6 7. Galop. Allegro vivace – 7:15

8. Dissolve to Thatcher Reading Document. [ ] – Lento –

9. Second Manuscript. [ ] –

10. Thanks. Moderato –

11. Bernstein’s Narration. [ ] –

12. Kane’s New Office. [ ] –

12a. New Hornpipe Polka. Moderato –

13. Carter’s Exit. Allegretto – Lento –

14. Chronicle Scherzo. Allegro con brio –

14a. Bernstein’s Presto. Allegro vivace

7 15. Kane’s Return. Allegro vivace – 7:38

16. Collecting Statues. Moderato –

17. Valse Presentation. Tempo di valse – Allegro vivace –

18. Sunset Narrative. Slowly –

19. Theme and Variations

Valse tempo –

Variation 1. Allegretto scherzando –

Variation II. Presto –

Variation III. Allegretto –

Variation IV. Allegro agitato –

Variation V. Lento –

Variation VI. Valse lento

8 20b. Kane Meets Susan. Very slowly – 5:40

21. Susan’s Room. Andante –

22. Mother Memory. Lento –

23b. The Trip. Slow –

24a. Geddes’s Departure. Largo –

25. Kane Marries. [ ] – Molto marcato –

9 26. Salammbô’s Aria. Maestoso. Andante amoroso – 4:12

Agitato –

Orla Boylan soprano

10 27. Leland’s Dismissal. Lento marcato pesante – 7:10

28. New Dawn Music. [ ] –

29. Xanadu. Lento –

30. Jigsaws. Moderato –

31. Second Zanadu. Lento

11 32. Kane’s Picnic. Tempo di blues – 8:28

33. Susan Leaves. Lento lontano –

34. El Rancho. Lento –

35. The Glass Ball. Largo –

36. Finale. Adagio – Agitato – Maestoso

77:31

BBC Philharmonic

Rumon Gamba

Recorded in:

Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester

24 and 25 March (all works except ‘Salammbô’s Aria’) and 14 July (‘Salammbô’s Aria’) 2009

Producer(s)

Brian Pidgeon

Mike George

Sound Engineer(s)

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