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Herrmann: Battle Of Neretva, The Naked And The Dead / Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra

Release Date: 01/09/2012 
Label:  Cd Baby   Catalog #: 26134606  
Composer:  Bernard Herrmann
Conductor:  William T. Stromberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

HERRMANN Battle of Neretva. The Naked and the Dead William Stromberg, cond; Moscow SO TRIBUTE 1007 (77:16)

Battle of Neretva was an obscure, big-budget, Yugoslavian World War II drama with a cast that included Yul Brynner, Curt Jurgens, Sylva Koscina, and a cameo appearance by Orson Welles. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The original Yugoslavian release was 175 minutes in length, but various subsequent versions (in the United States and England) were Read more drastically cut to the point where the character and story development in the original version were obliterated, leaving little more than a series of battle scenes.

The original Yugoslavian film featured a sparingly applied score by Kraus Rajteric that concentrated on the human emotions and tragedy of the story. The battle scenes were not scored. For the revised and truncated British version (and the subsequently more severely cut United States release by American International Pictures), Bernard Herrmann was signed to provide a new score designed to support the film’s altered tone. There is considerable controversy as to how Herrmann’s music ended up in the various versions of the film. The most plausible theory is that Herrmann wrote large blocks of music that were then cut into pieces that were applied to the remaining film by music editors. Herrmann wrote approximately 60 minutes of music for Battle of Neretva . An Entr’acte Recording Society LP released in 1975 (and subsequently briefly available on a Southern Cross CD) contained about 30 minutes of music. This is the first recording to include the complete score. Herrmann calls for a 98-piece orchestra with expanded brass (nine horns, six trumpets, six trombones, and two tubas) and six percussionists primarily playing timpani and various drums (two snare drums, two tenor drums, two bass drums).

My first reaction was that it would be a waste of the Tribute team’s considerable talents to record Battle of Neretva because of the existing previous recording with serviceable sound. Boy, was I wrong! The presence of 30 minutes of previously unreleased music is one thing, but the amazing sound, William Stromberg’s conducting, and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra’s execution make this a must for Herrmann fans. Battle of Neretva is far from Herrmann’s best or most imaginative score (this is not Citizen Kane or Vertigo ), but the fusillades of brass and percussion within Herrmann’s still recognizable style must be heard to be believed. There are also some dynamically contrasting, soft, atmospheric cues that contribute substantially to the overall effect. This is a brutal musical portrait of war that is a long way from Max Steiner’s comparably jaunty marches. Herrmann also included music from several earlier works, most notably the “Death Hunt” from On Dangerous Ground , plus his rejected score for Torn Curtain , his Symphony, and the concert elegy For the Fallen.

Whereas Battle of Neretva was composed near the end of Herrmann’s career, The Naked and the Dead (based on Norman Mailer’s war novel) was released in 1958, immediately following Vertigo . It therefore represents Herrmann at the peak of his creative powers. Again, the orchestration is unusual, including eight horns, six trumpets, six trombones, four tubas, plus woodwinds, two harps, and percussion. There are no strings. Herrmann employs every conceivable kind of mute for the brass instruments, which are frequently positioned antiphonally. The harps often play in their lowest registers, giving a Mahlerian sound. These instrumental combinations produce striking sonorities, even by Herrmann’s standards. The nearest comparison would be the Ray Harryhausen films and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Stromberg has extracted a 17-minute suite from Herrmann’s ultramodern (for him) score. There appears to be no tonal base and there are no melodies. Interesting as Battle of Neretva will be for Herrmannophiles, The Naked and the Dead is the highlight of this CD. You have never heard war music like this.

Stromberg has stated that he wanted to create a dry and detailed sound, by miking virtually every instrument. This clearly demonstrates that he was very conscious of reproducing Herrmann’s sound, probably with the Decca-London Phase 4 recordings as his model. In that context, I think dry means no warmth or reverb, with the goal being analytical clarity ensuring that every detail of Herrmann’s unique orchestration emerges clearly in the mix. The recording totally succeeds in doing that but still manages to capture adequate hall sound and preserve dynamic range. All of Tribute’s releases have excellent program notes, but the 30 pages of detailed discussion of these obscure films and their music are especially revealing.

It isn’t very often that you will have the opportunity to hear two major Herrmann scores for the first time with superb performances and sound seemingly designed specifically for the composer. Given the extreme dynamics and relentless intensity of this music, it will probably not be a good idea to play both scores at once, but don’t miss this CD. Clearly, Want List material.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

Battle of Neretva by Bernard Herrmann
Conductor:  William T. Stromberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moscow Symphony Orchestra
The Naked and the Dead by Bernard Herrmann
Conductor:  William T. Stromberg
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Moscow Symphony Orchestra

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