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Hans Zimmer – The Classics
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Sony Classical / 58m

An interesting concept for an album, Hans Zimmer – The Classics offers new arrangements of various pieces by the composer, interpreted by various classical and crossover artists contracted to Sony Classical, accompanied in most cases by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by frequent Zimmer collaborator Gavin Greenaway.  I’m always in favour of new interpretations like this of film music, and given this composer’s frequent taste for the flamboyant, there’s certainly no shortage of material.  On the other hand, a lot of his music isn’t really written for the symphonic treatment and so it wasn’t a sure thing that it would work.

Well, the first track does a lot to lay any fears to rest: I’m not exactly a great fan of The Dark Knight Rises, but this take on the main theme works tremendously well, with violinist Lindsey Stirling adding a beautiful gloss to the orchestral underbelly (which sounds much like it does on the original soundtrack really).  Dynamic and exciting, it’s a great way to start.  Less successful is a suite from the Pirates of the Caribbean scores – while the underlying material is excellent, the addition of The Piano Guys seems rather pointless and takes away somewhat from the great tunes at the heart of it.  Without the massive synth presence bolstering the bass in particular, the wonderful “Up is Down” from the third score lacks a bit of punch.

Hans Zimmer

The “Gladiator Rhapsody” is something very different.  Lang Lang is no “crossover” star, he’s the real deal, and (with no orchestra – just him) his performance of a couple of pieces from Gladiator joined together into a mini-suite is passionate and impressive.  Trumpeter Till Brönner is the star of the main theme from Crimson Tide – I have to say it’s a bit unusual, his jazz style seemingly out of place when a more conventional approach would surely have been better – then again, I guess some people might think that he knows a bit more about playing the trumpet than I do.  In any case, it’s a truly great theme which still packs a punch – and given the original soundtrack doesn’t present it in such a nice self-contained form anywhere, it’s certainly nice to have this version.

Cellist Tina Guo’s take on “Time” from Inception is beautifully done: it’s one of the tracks that strays least far from its original form but does have a slightly more mellow feel and it’s undoubtedly one of the best things Zimmer’s ever written so its inclusion is very welcome.  The Lion King‘s “This Land” is another classic by the composer; I’m not sure I would have thought of getting a saxophonist to play on it but it does sound pretty good with Amy Dickson’s wonderful playing.  It is a bit spoiled by replacing Lebo M and his choir at the end with the brass.  I really don’t see the point of “Now We Are Free” from Gladiator being here – I know it’s good, but Lisa Gerrard’s vocals are so ingrained into the original performance, just replacing her with Leona Lewis and not really changing anything else – especially given the piece has already been heard in such fine fashion in the Lang Lang suite 15 minutes earlier on the album – I guess it may have had commercial appeal to the label but nobody’s ever going to listen to this over the original recording.

I didn’t have many positive things to say about Man of Steel when it came out, with only the last track offering me anything I’ve felt the need to return to in the years since its release.  Sadly it’s not that track recreated here and amazingly, even the presence of Lang Lang and Maxim Vengerov can’t make “Flight” sound any good (if anything, they make it sound even more campy than the original).  The wonderful violinist Vengerov returns in the next track and finds rather more success: “Light” from The Thin Red Line is the least mainstream piece on the album but it’s an absolute beauty and even though it may be separated from its predecessor by the excision of a single letter, it could hardly be more different.  This score represents Hans Zimmer at his very best and this piece is a stunner, not the most famous from the score but certainly one of the best.

Yet more Gladiator follows – this time something genuinely different.  It’s solo piano again, this time a lengthy transcription of “The Battle Scene” played by Khatia Buniatishvili.  It’s more than a bit special: while the claim in the liner notes that it has “become known as one of the real tour de forces of the contemporary piano repertoire” is cringeworthy (and certainly not just because it says “tour de forces” rather than “tours de force”), it’s really rather spectacular and wonderful to hear such a unique interpretation of a piece of film music.

The second piece on offer from Inception is, rather boldly, “Mobasa”, apparently played by “2Cellos” but sounding otherwise rather synthy throughout and not a patch on the original.  We end with a piece from another Christopher Nolan film, Interstellar – I could certainly make a case for it being Zimmer’s most impressive score and “The Docking Scene”, while not straying far from the original recording, is a great piece (with organ soloist Roger Sayer).

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag in the end, I guess: some of the reinterpretations work much better than others.  All in all, the good more than outweighs the bad and there are some great pieces here.  I much prefer this to the Live in Prague album.  The cover may make it look like it’s very cheap and put you off, but this is a glossy production which clearly would have cost a lot to produce given how famous many of the soloists are, and I think most Zimmer fans will enjoy it – and his more casual fans, perhaps even more so.  A similar album concept for James Horner, featuring many of the same soloists, is being released shortly.

Rating: *** 1/2

See also:
Live in Prague Hans Zimmer | |

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