Salonen Discovers Modern Side of Bernard Herrmann

The strange, moody, angry Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) has long been revered by soundtrack fans as a haunting composer with an ear for instrumental effects. Who will ever forget, for example, the slashing strings in “Psycho”? Record collectors may also remember a few good recordings he made conducting French music and Gershwin (recently reissued by London Phase 4) and Ives.

But the classical music world mostly disdained him, ignoring his concert music and his opera “Jane Eyre,” and so he stayed in Hollywood, mad as hell.

All that has been changing, as classic film scores have increasingly become our new classical music. And it is likely to change even more with the release of this new CD on Tuesday. There have been other discs of Herrmann’s movie music through the years, ranging from the composer’s authoritative ones on London to a recent release from the City of Prague Philharmonic on Silva Classics.

But Esa-Pekka Salonen has found something in Herrmann that no one else has. In the scores to the famous Alfred Hitchcock films as well as suites comprising music from Francois Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451" and Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” Salonen has discovered a radical modernism lurking behind the silver-screen grandness of the music.


In the motoric overture to “North by Northwest,” you’ll hear proto-Philip Glass; in the salvaged music for “Torn Curtain” (Hitchcock ditched Herrmann’s score for something more pop), Varese’s hoards of horns, trombones and aggressive flutes.

This is, then, as Salonen revealingly conducts it and the Los Angeles Philharmonic boldly plays it, music many of us have heard all our lives but also music we’ve never really heard at all.