Some scores are more admired than enjoyed. Bernard Herrmann's 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still
is a case in point, a work that has perhaps attracted more laudatory adjectives ("seminal", "groundbreaking", "visionary") over the years than devoted listeners. The score's mix of electronic and acoustic instruments, and the bold doubling of individual instruments to produce "otherworldly" textures is rightly admired; but it probably doesn't rate as many people's favourite Herrmann score. While the original Fox classics soundtrack CD
is the kind of milestone album that every self-respecting film music buff simply must have in their collection, this new Varese recording has the dual virtues of a shiny, all-digital sound--bright and with plenty of "presence"--and thoroughgoing musicality.
An experienced Herrmann conductor and a fine composer in his own right, Joel McNeely shapes the separate cues with a conductor's true instinct into a coherent whole; here individually impressive pieces--"Arlington" or "Gort's Rage" for example--don't sound so much like isolated tracks as the ebbing and flowing of a single musical tide. Neither McNeely nor engineer Jonathan Allen attempt slavishly to reproduce the sound of the 1951 recording. As Allen notes in the CD booklet, he was faced with the prospect of translating the original mono recording into "a vivid stereo image", which involved some creative solutions for instrumental balance and studio layout. The final product is remarkably faithful to the spirit of the original while unafraid to depart from it in matters of detail. McNeely is slower in places, faster in others, making each cue fit his vision of the complete work; the sound balance, meanwhile, clarifies the muddy textures of the mono original, making it easier to hear the ensemble playing rather than just spotlighting the Theremin or organ (notably, Celia Sheen's solo Theremin is less up front here than those of the soundtrack).
It's not all perfect, of course. Those chaotic, crashing chords of "The Visor" sound a little weak on this new recording, and the heavy tread of Gort's feet seem a little too light: the menacing air of the soundtrack is softened just a bit too much. But overall, as with their previous Herrmann albums, the team at Varese have succeeded in giving us more than just a clean digital copy of an old classic: they have established that this score deserves not only to be respected as a pioneering work, but also to be heard and enjoyed as a piece of music. --Mark Walker
The theremin is a very strange instrument. The sound of its eerie wailing is both creakily old fashioned and thoroughly modern. And there's lots of it all over this album. This is a new recording, in sparklingly clear digital sound, of Bernard Herrmann's original score for the 1950s science fiction film.
You may have seen it on afternoon TV. Its the one where Michael Rennie plays a curiously upright and noble extraterrestrial humanoid called Klaatu. He comes to earth in a flying saucer to warn mankind of the dangers of nuclear weapons. He has a really big cyclops robot called Gort. Mankind does not heed his message and Klaatu gets shot.
Hermann's score uses not one but two theremins. They take centre stage among a small eclectic ensemble of instruments, including two Hammond organs, electrically amplified violin and vibraphones.
The score consists of a number of short pieces, many of them under a minute and nothing over three. The mood is weird, unsettling and ominous. Sudden lurches and climaxes and rolling tympani increase the tension. There is one basic theme ('Prelude and Outer Space'), which reoccurs throughout, while 'The Magnetic Pull' includes some delightful stereo effects. Although it does remind you strongly of sequences in the film ('Gort's Rage') the music does work well as a kind of peculiar ambience. If you were having a dinner party with a elderly man from Mars, this would be perfect to put on in the background.
Since this new recording is so clear you do miss a little of the grainy ambience of the original analogue film. But on the other hand this does make it perfect for sampling! These strange, but compelling sounds may turn up, suitably disguised, on a lot of other peoples records very soon... --Nick Reynolds
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