Bernard Herrmann

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

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The original soundtrack to Ray Harryhausen's classic fantasy film The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), composed by Bernard Herrmann, has had numerous incarnations -- a soundtrack LP at the time from Colpix Records, and a reissue from United Artists Records during the mid-'70s, plus a re-release from Varese Sarabande in 1980, produced by Richard Kraft and Tom Null, and its CD issue in 1986. In the years since, it has been supplanted in the Varese catalog by a modern re-recording of a larger portion of the score as originally composed, by John Debney and the Scottish National Orchestra. This recording was, by contrast, limited to under 35 minutes of music, which was considered sufficiently generous on a 1959 LP, and the music encompasses the score as edited for the final cut of the picture. The Debney re-recording of the score has its virtues, including all-digital audio, but Herrmann's original recording is still essential listening -- no one conducted Herrmann's music like Herrmann himself, especially in his prime, which is precisely when this album captures him at work. The fine little nuances in the playing and the recording, in tracks such as "Cobra Dance" (which, here, is paired off with "Sultan's Feast"), and the use of the close timbres of the winds, are something that not even the newest digital technology can capture properly -- and depend upon it, those are elements in the music that one does perceive, somewhere above the subliminal level, in watching the movie. Additionally, the score itself depicting Herrmann having fun at his work -- he evidently reveled in the images and action he was being asked to accompany and orchestrate, and adding in his conducting to the mix only heightens the impact of the music, which is highly expressive to begin with. This score represented Herrmann going wild in the studio, cut loose to entertain his most unorthodox musical impulses, and his conducting makes the experience totally enveloping of the listener. Further, the then 40-year-old master tapes have held up remarkably well, and there is no loss of fidelity anywhere in the playback -- just a little more hiss in the quietest moments than we would expect of a modern recording. And to top it off, this may well have been the first Herrmann score released commercially in stereo, and the separation between the two channels works perfectly, even by modern standards, thanks to Null and Kraft's care and the contribution of engineer Danny Hersh. The Debney recording may have more of the score, but this original release better captures the beautiful elegance, romance, richness, and inventiveness of the man, the conductor as well as the composer. And for those who appreciate the Film Score Monthly releases of Herrmann's work at Twentieth Century Fox from this same period, this CD slots right in alongside all of those and helps completes the picture of his work from that part of his career.

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