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Review: Psycho Live! at Birmingham Symphony Hall

Maggie Cotton reviews Psycho Live! at Birmingham Symphony Hall

Actress Janet Leigh in the famous shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Psycho

What do you think of when the 1960 film Psycho is mentioned? Yes that hair-raising screaming shower scene with the iconic slashing, relentless tutti string sound: single, brutal down bows. Once heard, never forgotten. Only here we had the full visual effect too, with conductor Anthony Gabriele drawing out 100 per cent horror from his splendid British Sinfonietta – their 32 string players as one, discreetly placed on stage at Symphony Hall beneath a large cinema screen.

Suitable black and white, but at first not always a clear vocal sound-track, (one vaguely wished for sub-titles before eventually catching on). Bernard Herrmann’s music is a totally integral part of the whole film, he certainly knew how to highlight every emotion. Apparently Hitchcock initially requested no music for that most famous scene, but hearing Herrmann’s brilliance one cannot imagine this particular offering with merely screams and pouring water.

Much music is eerily repetitious: scary tremolos, atmospherically high violins with occasional quasi Wagner passages, but all focussed as the evil tale unfolded. Danny Elfman adapted the original score superbly well.

This, the first of three performances (Bristol, Manchester) was admirably played throughout by the well-balanced sensitive strings, but often the most shocking images were screened in total silence i.e. heaving the murdered girl into the boot of a car: terrifying! It cannot have been easy for the conductor to be sure that his players were not obscuring the numerous levels of speech on screen, but this was truly admirable throughout.

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