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John Powell: Film Suites Volume 1
  • Composed by John Powell
  • 5 Cat Studios / 49m

Most of us probably became aware of John Powell through his additional music for Hans Zimmer in the mid-1990s – he is one of many to gone from that status to becoming a high-profile film composer in his own right – but he is set apart from the others who have done so, actually becoming one of the very finest film composers around. This album – released by his own label – is the first compilation of his music, fresh arrangements of suites and themes from nine of his scores, played by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Voices conducted by the prestigious José Serebrier.

Powell’s always enjoyed scoring animation and has done a large number of them in his time – one of his most beloved pieces remains “Building the Crate” from Chicken Run, a hugely rambunctious piece just about guaranteed to put a smile on your face, given a rousing concert ending for this performance. The other style of film he was most associated with (though he doesn’t really do them any more) was the action-thriller and Mr and Mrs Smith is a brilliant score – with all the energy and modern thrills of the Bourne scores combined with Latin colours, none more so than in “Assassins’ Tango” as heard here.

John Powell

I don’t think there’s much doubting that the most popular score amongst the composer’s fanbase is How to Train Your Dragon, big and bright and colourful and multi-thematic, many of them being arranged into a lengthy suite here. He includes some of the score’s most dramatic action music to contrast with the soaring themes and it’s a grand showcase for one of his finest works.

The sweet love theme from Two Weeks Notice (a film I only remember thanks to the controversy surrounding the lack of apostrophe in its title) showcases what may be one of the less-appreciated weapons in the composer’s arsenal, which is the romantic side. It’s a really lovely piece, with the melody played first by solo piano before the strings swell up.

There aren’t many film scores over the last twenty years that have been as influential as The Bourne Identity, whose style can still be heard all over the place – with it Powell invented a new style of action music and while the main title cue (which is what’s here) is more focused on that equally-distinctive main theme, there’s still a few moments where you can hear that famous action ostinato in action.

Powell has scored most of the 85 entries in the Ice Age series – they are much flittier scores than the How to Train Your Dragon ones but I do like the piece here, the fun end titles from The Meltdown. X-Men: The Last Stand is a great, traditional comic book score full of solid themes (I’ve always wished Powell had visited that sort of genre more often than he has – he would be able to write so much more distinctive scores than a lot of those movies actually end up getting) and the huge finale piece sounds great here.

The most obscure film represented on the album is 1998’s Endurance, about (and starring) Haile Gebrselassie. “The Great Tree” is such a florid piece, fast-moving and free-flowing (as so much of Powell’s music is), with a nice little tune running through it (it’s a really great score by the way, one you should definitely seek out if it’s still available). Then the album ends with another of its longer suites, from How To Train Your Dragon 2 (one of the great things about those scores is the number of new themes Powell comes up with every time).

This is a nice showcase of some really good film music – of course there’s an awful lot missing, and let’s hope that the “Volume 1” in its title is a sign that there’s plenty more to come. I would say that, while the performance is fine, there is a certain panache that’s on the original recordings that isn’t necessarily replicated here (the sheer energy of so much of the composer’s music not quite felt to the usual degree). Still, its a great album for any fan of John Powell, available from most of the usual streaming and download vendors but curiously not Amazon.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Momo (Reply) on Saturday 23 January, 2021 at 14:54

    My favorite composer <3 I treasure his music alongside the very best achievements in film scores.