HERRMANN A Concert of American Music (1949/56) - PASC232

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HERRMANN A Concert of American Music (1949/56) - PASC232

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IVES Symphony No. 2
HERRMANN Welles Raises Kane
Recorded in 1956 and 1949
Total duration: 76:44

Louis Kaufman, violin
London Symphony Orchestra
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann

This set contains the following albums:

Fascinating and brilliant - Herrmann conducts American Music

Three excellent radio recordings newly transferred and remastered

This collection of radio broadcast recordings, brought together as a kind of concert-on-CD, if you like, brings together several aspects of the work of Bernard Herrmann, a composer and conductor who still commands a committed following today, some 35 years after his death.

Having grown up in New York City, schooling first in Brooklyn, later at New York University and Jullliard, it seems only appropriate that this most American of musicians should introduce the British public to the Second Symphony of Charles Ives. Remarkably, it's a work which, somewhat like its composer, was rejected for half a century – Ives began work on it in 1897 and completed it in the first years of the new century, but had to wait until 1951 for its rapturously-received première under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. Five years later it was Herrmann, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra for a studio broadcast concert, who premièred the work in the UK.

The copy here was taken from an open-reel tape from what would appear to be a rebroadcast or disc transcription from the occasional clicks I had to deal with. The FM-quality broadcast sound quality is more than acceptable if prone to occasional peak distortion and a little tape flutter-dropout at the very beginning, the performance a credit both to orchestra and conductor.

Our second work is the Violin Concerto in A by Robert Russell Bennett, and presents another interesting connection. Bennett straddled the worlds of classical music and Broadway musicals in a similar manner to Herrmann and his film music; in both cases the 'other' work has remained longer in the memories of music lovers than what some might consider the composers' more “serious” output, but that should not distract from this most fascinating and delightful piece.

The soloist here the concerto's dedicatee and Bennett's friend, the violinist Louis Kaufmann. It's a very accessible piece (subtitled “in the popular style”) and would surely stand reviving, and includes an astonishing if very short virtuoso display in the third movement.

An alternative release of this piece on CD is currently available – but the sound quality on it is particularly grim and the piece about a semitone out of tune! This new transfer came from a mid-70s 'pirate' LP release which found its way into Edward Johnson's collection. I've endeavoured to remove the unfortunate fake stereo effect applied to the LP release – on which I also noted a bizarre and unpleasant change in equalisation for the finale which amplified mid-range frequencies to the great detriment of the listener; this, too, has been ameliorated. Overall sound is generally very good, perhaps a slight improvement on the Ives thanks to clearer top-end extension, though there is still a slight tendency to peak distortion in some sections, which I've tried to control as much as possible.

The finale of this Concert of American Music is an orchestral suite of Herrmann's own music. Entitled "Welles Raises Kane", its five movements are drawn from the film scores Herrmann wrote for Orson Welles' first two feature films, his early-1940s screen masterpieces Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, both regarded by critics as among the two best American films ever made.

As with the Bennett, this is the only recording of this piece I've been able to trace (though I'm reliably informed it was recorded again by Hermann in 1967 and issued on CD in 1994), and as with the Bennett it has also been issued elsewhere, in poorer sound, and again badly pitched. The Bennett was relatively straightforward to check for pitching – we know from the title that the piece is in A, and there are a number of obvious A's at the beginning of the first movement which lend themselves to frequency analysis. The Herrmann was slightly harder to judge – again the alternative release I found was a good semitone out of tune by comparison to the present recording. Without a score, a modern reference or a named key it took a little more ingenuity to check pitching here – I obtained a copy of the film Citizen Kane, extracted from it the audio soundtrack, and scanned through this until I found the music which Herrmann used for his Overture. It was immediately clear to the ear that this was both in the same key as the present performance and in tune. I rest my case!

Sonically this 1949 radio broadcast is a little more constricted than the previous two recordings, though in still very clean and listenable AM broadcast sound. It was originally recorded onto 78rpm acetates, and I've endeavoured to iron out the clear differences in surface noise between the sides to allow a greater continuity of sound. As with the other recordings, I've retained all the broadcast announcements available to me.

Andrew Rose

IVES Symphony No. 2 (1897-1901) (UK Première)
London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann
BBC Studio Broadcast of 25 April, 1956

ROBERT RUSSELL BENNETT Violin Concerto in A (in the Popular Style) (1941)
(UK Broadcast Première) [notes]
Louis Kaufman, violin
London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann
BBC Studio Recording of 20 May, 1956

HERRMANN Welles Raises Kane (1943)
(Orchestral suite from his music for 'Citizen Kane' & 'The Magnificent Ambersons')
Columbia Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Bernard Herrmann
CBS Radio Broadcast of 3 July, 1949

Transfers by Andrew Rose from Edward Johnson's private collection
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, June 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Orson Welles and Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, 1941)

Total duration: 76:44


conducts English and American Music

The death of Bernard Herrmann on Christmas Eve, 1975, in Hollywood, deprived the film and music worlds of one of their most outspoken, colourful and talented personalities. It is true that his choleric personality and abrasiveness were not exactly endearing but in the words of one who was close to him, he was like a toffee-apple, all crusty on the outside and soft on the inside’.

Benny,” to his friends, was born in New York City in 1911 and showed an interest in music at an early age. After graduating he went to New York University and later became a student at the Juilliard School of Music. His career took a professional turn when he went to work for the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1933. He soon made his mark on their radio programmes, planning them in an unconventional way and featuring rarely heard music seldom played in public concert halls. One American composer whom Herrmann championed for many years was Charles Ives, several of whose works received their premieres under his direction.

Always an ardent anglophile, Herrmann presented a great deal of English music on the CBS network, introducing compositions by Vaughan Williams, Bax, Delius, Cyril Scott and many others. Indeed, when Herrmann became Conductor-in-Chief of the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in 1940, Baker’s Musical Dictionary noted that he was ‘probably responsible for introducing more new works to American radio audiences than any other conductor.’

By 1948 he had also earned a chapter in David Ewen’s Dictators of the Baton in which the author commented on Herrmann’s ‘lack of attention to detail’ but concluded: Whatever his faults as a conductor may be, it cannot be denied that he is a splendid musician, that he has an enthusiasm which is found contagiously in his performances, and that with his detestation of the stereotyped he has been one of the most invigorating influences in the radio music of the past two decades.'

Although he was busy championing the music of others, he did not neglect his own composing career and by the late 1940s several of his concert works had received notable performances. Barbirolli had conducted his Cantata Moby Dick with the New York Philharmonic in 1940 and his Symphony was performed by the same orchestra under Howard Barlow in 1942.That same year Beecham conducted the CBS Symphony in the suite Welles Raises Kane . The Devil and Daniel Webster Suite was given its concert premiere by Ormandy and his Philadelphians in 1944 and was taken up by Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic in 1949.

After the war, Herrmann made many guest appearances in British concert halls and in 1950 completed work on his most ambitious composition, the windswept lyric-drama Wuthering Heights . This was a project which had occupied him for three years and reflected his wide literary tastes.

In 1951 after the CBS Symphony Orchestra was disbanded, he spent more time in England, where he eventually settled. In 1956 he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in two broadcasts, one of which included the British premiere of Charles Ives’s Second Symphony (