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