Music review: The RSNO plays Psycho Live, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

It's one of the most famous scenes in movie history thanks to composer Bernard Hermann. As Janet Leigh takes a shower, the psychotic Norman Bates stabs her to death. Each thrust of the knife is synced to high-pitched screeching strings, a motif now synonymous with horror.

Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic thriller Psycho. PIC: AP Photo/File, HO

The RSNO play Psycho Live ****

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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The RSNO has an impressive reputation for their live performances of film scores which give the music equal weighting with the visual image. Psycho Live, with conductor Neil Thomson, was no exception.

Scored entirely for strings – director Alfred Hitchcock was on a tight budget –Hermann’s music for Psycho has a sinister listless quality. His decision to mute the instruments throughout – apart from in the shower scene – hints at the dark undercurrents in this black and white classic. The heart-beat pulse of the basses and plucked strings ratchet up the tension while the frenzied strings squawk like angry birds, alluding to the creepy stuffed ones in Bates’ parlour. Hermann makes his relatively small amount of musical material go a long way, from the early scenes in heat-soaked Phoenix right up to the long dissonant chord that closes the film.

While some of the visual effects in Psycho look somewhat clunky alongside the CGI-saturated offerings in today’s cinema, Hermann’s music has stood the test of time. Hitchcock immodestly claimed that the score accounted for 33 per cent of the film’s effect. But there’s no doubt that without Hermann’s brilliant score, Psycho would not have become such a hit and one of the first psychoanalytical thrillers.