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Herrmann, Waxman: Sinfonietta; Rosza / Jackson, Berlin SO


Release Date: 01/05/1993 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7152   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bernard HerrmannMiklós RózsaFranz Waxman
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

I'm not sure how much I would like Bernard Herrmann's Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, composed in 1936 and revised in 1975, were I not such a fan of his film music in general and his Hitchcock scores in particular. But substantial portions of Herrmann's strings-only music for Hitchcock's 1960 Psycho turn up in his 1936 Sinfonietta for Strings, not only in the “Interlude“ (the fourth of this strange work's five movements), which was lifted all but wholesale for the “Swamp“ cue in Psycho, but at various points in most of the work's other movements as well. One can only wonder, then, what sorts of eerie things were going on in the composer's soul in 1936 while also marveling at how music composed with no apparent dramatic reference could Read more have merged to such perfection with the affective demands of a movie made twenty-four years later. Relentlessly non-tonal, with some obvious obeisances to Schoenberg and perhaps, in the Theme and Variations finale, even to Webern, the Sinfonietta stands quite apart from almost everything else Herrmann ever wrote, film music and otherwise, and it forms a fascinating facet of the composer's overall vision. Indeed, the musical stasis that pervades most of the sinfonietta works to this work's advantage, which is not the case with the composer's opera, Wuthering Heights (see review this issue). Those who are concerned that the version of the sinfonietta offered here is the 1975 revision need not fret unduly. The first three movements remain virtually identical to the original, while the fourth has been altered to conform with the cue from Psycho, which is not all that different. And to the finale, Herrmann added a dozen or so bars, which heighten that movement's dramatic impact. Personally, I would have preferred the original version as published by the New Music Orchestra Series. But this is nonetheless a major find.

I have always been a sucker for Miklós Rózsa's concert music, and his 1943 Concerto for String Orchestra remains one of my favorite manifestations of this facet of the composer's “double life.“ Dark and moody, and written during a period when Rózsa penned many of his film noir film scores, the Concerto for String Orchestra could certainly be classified as “musique noire.“ But, unlike Herrmann, for instance, Rózsa is able to expand the more compactly expressed drama of his film scores into the broader fabric of concert works by incorporating that drama into musically sophisticated, often neo-classical forms and styles. The concerto is richly contrapuntal, and it features, in the last of its three movements, an exceptionally well-developed and exciting fugue in which the opening theme from the first movement ultimately joins contrapuntally with the fugue theme. Rózsa's autobiography lists a revision, dating from 1957, of the Concerto for String Orchestra. Having not had access to the score, I am not sure which version is offered here. The Andante for String Orchestra is a reworking, done by Christopher Palmer under the composer's supervision, of the first movement of his string quartet. A more placid work somewhat in the vein of the second movement of Rózsa's piano sonata, the Andante lacks the noir intensity of the concerto.

Franz Waxman's 1955 Sinfonietta for String Orchestra and Timpani opens with a deceptively cheerful theme that belies the serioso nature of much of this work's writing. Indeed, with its obsessive timpani beat dominating most of the music, the second movement very much evokes the composer's celebrated film score for The Bride of Frankenstein. Like Rózsa's, Waxman's concert writing shows a sophisticated transition from the needs of film music to the demands of the concert hall. Where Rózsa moves more in the orbit of Hindemith and Bartók, Waxman traces a parallel line with Dmitri Shostakovich. While his sinfonietta does not reveal the immediately recognizable style one hears in the Rózsa work, and while it does not offer the kinds of insights into a major film score that one finds in the Herrmann sinfonietta, its moods, craftsmanship, and energy prove quite infectious.

Conductor Isaiah Jackson and the Berlin Philharmonic strings fare best in the Rózsa concerto, particularly the finale, whose energy definitely seems to have inspired both conductor and orchestra. The performances in the Waxman are somewhat more iffy, while neither conductor nor orchestra seems to have the slightest idea what the Herrmann sinfonietta is all about. Having access only to the 1936 score, I can't tell whether some of the infidelities are due to the revision or to the musicians, but I suspect the latter. Two examples: the second-movement scherzo certainly does not move like a “presto,“ and the strings do not seem to have remained muted throughout the entire work, as the original score indicates, although that is hard to tell, given the CD's somewhat tubby, rather digitally harsh sound. And throughout much of this enigmatic work, the playing lacks cohesiveness. All in all, however, an exciting release that would have had me jumping for joy had the Herrmann received a more satisfying performance.

-- Royal S. Brown, FANFARE [11/1992] Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Sinfonietta for String Orchestra by Bernard Herrmann
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/1992 
Venue:  Siemens Villa, Berlin 
Length: 17 Minutes 30 Secs. 
2.
Concerto for Strings, Op. 17 by Miklós Rózsa
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1943 
Date of Recording: 04/1992 
Venue:  Siemens Villa, Berlin 
Length: 24 Minutes 45 Secs. 
3.
Andante for Strings, Op. 22a by Miklós Rózsa
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950/1992 
Date of Recording: 04/1992 
Venue:  Siemens Villa, Berlin 
Length: 9 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Notes: Arranged: Miklós Rózsa and Christopher Palmer 
4.
Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani by Franz Waxman
Conductor:  Isaiah Jackson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; USA 
Date of Recording: 04/1992 
Venue:  Siemens Villa, Berlin 
Length: 13 Minutes 42 Secs. 

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