As film score buffs know, the masterpiece here is the music from Psycho. Without doubt, this score registers the coldest, most insensitive depiction of movie characters in film history. There is not a note of sympathy for the desperate but likable embezzler, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Nor is there a hint of understanding for her deranged murderer, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). The music is hard as ice and just as chilling. If you're one of the few who hasn't seen Psycho, you must realize that this coldness and insensitivity are deliciously appropriate for what is, after all, a black, albeit terrifying, comedy.
The shrieking string glissandos from The Murder (track 6) are so convincingly horrifying that they sear the musical psyche indelibly, leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth to accompany your perversely satisfied ears. But it's the opening Prélude (track 2) that rises to an even higher artistic plateau: this two-minute cue so perfectly captures the desperation, the darkness, the twistedness of the film's characters and happenings. The anxiety in the rhythm, the madness in the ostinato, and the urgency in the searching violin theme combine here to produce one of the most intense opening sequences ever written for a film. The Finale (track 12) is pleasingly morbid, with not a hint of consolation or feeling.
The rest of the selections on this disc are a mixed bag. The Marnie music is good, as is the brief number from North By Northwest. The five cues from Taxi Driver show Herrmann at his least effective, least Herrmannesque. The slices from Vertigo and Torn Curtain are effective when accompanying their respective films, but don't stand up as well alone. The remainder of the music is a rather middling affair.
Esa-Pekka Salonen seems at one with Herrmann's varied musical persona, whether it's in the chill of Psycho's strings, or in the mystery of the Prélude from Fahrenheit 451, or in the ebullience and humor of the Overture from North By Northwest. As you listen to this disc, close your eyes and you can see the knife and the shower curtain and Marion Crane's terror, or you can envision Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) grappling with vertigo and villainy.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays superbly, and is captured in splendid sound by Sony's engineers. Fine notes, too, by the eminent musicologist Alex Ross. Despite my carping about certain mediocrities in some of this music, I highly recommend this disc mainly because of that most compelling of Herrmann's film scores, Psycho.
Copyright © 1999 Robert Cummings