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The World of Hans Zimmer
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer
  • Sony Classical / 117m

Hans Zimmer went on tour with a small band a few years ago, to the delight of his fans; shortly thereafter his music went on tour again, this time under the name of “The World of Hans Zimmer” and performed with a full orchestra. The former tour was represented by an album called “Live in Prague” and now the second one is here – “The World of Hans Zimmer: A Symphonic Celebration” to give it its proper title. It was recorded as part of the Hollywood in Vienna tribute to Zimmer in 2018 and features the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Martin Gellner (the tour itself was conducted by longtime Zimmer associate Gavin Greenaway).

It starts with a suite of action music from The Dark Knight – I think I’d have started with something a bit sunnier, but it’s easy to understand why they’d pick one of Zimmer’s most well-known scores to open the show. King Arthur follows – it’s quite rousing, the main theme getting an “epic” treatment complete with choir – the daft film is long-since forgotten but the music is very nice when separated from it.

Hans Zimmer

The album’s biggest surprise is how good the long suite from Mission: Impossible 2 is – ten minutes, spread over two cues. It opens with a stirring guitar solo and then goes all-out flamenco with the dancing percussion and then orchestra joining in, building up to an eventual frenzy. It’s a beautiful theme which has never sounded better than it does here. The second part focuses on action – Lisa Gerrard’s voice joins in early on (you can picture John Woo’s white doves flying past her as she starts singing) and it’s not long before the orchestra has swelled, the percussion’s going full-pelt and the hairs on your arms stand up to attention. Considering the score seems to be held in such low regard (not by me – I remember the flack I received for giving it a positive review back in the day) this is a truly wonderful suite – absolute the highlight of the whole album for me and I’ve got a feeling that quite a few people might be surprised at how much they like it.

Another much-derided score at the time is Pearl Harbor – again I thought that once separated from the film it was very nice music and the suite here, concentrating on the two pretty main themes, is nicely-done. On an album (or concert) like this it just doesn’t matter if the music’s overblown – it’s tuneful and pretty (and that main theme with the orchestra – and now choir, too! – in unison behind the piano still reminds me of the “Orchestra” mode you used to get on Casio keyboards when I was a boy). Rush is one of my favourite Zimmer scores from the last few years – he’s actually scored a few films about driving, but this is the one where he nailed it – his score is full of the danger and exhilaration of motorsport and (impressively) also perfectly captures the intense rivalry and human feelings associated with that. Here we get a very impressive rendition of “Lost But Won”, the score’s standout track.

The first half concludes with a lengthy, four-part suite from another Ron Howard film, The Da Vinci Code. It opens overtly liturgical – solo soprano then male choir singing religious texts – quite sprawling but beautiful in its way and actually rather unique for the composer too. This turns into more of a fervoured chant for the second piece, which is quite intense, becoming increasingly dark as it progresses. There’s a hint of Ennio Morricone about the suspense in the third piece (and also a hint of Pirates of the Caribbean) and then of course the suite ends with the score’s famous finale, a career highlight for this composer without doubt.

The second disc begins with music from various animations and comedies, starting with Madagascar‘s “Best Friends”, a tuneful and sweet little piece which serves a good curtain-raiser. Then comes a pretty long suite from Spirit, a score with which I was completely unfamiliar before hearing this – the long-lined main theme (unmistakably Zimmer) is good and the track turns out to be a real highlight, quite majestic even as it stretches the definition of “symphonic” somewhat (more on that later). More familiar is the beautiful “Oogway Ascends” from Kung Fu Panda, a stunning and genuinely touching piece of music. A suite from The Holiday is much lighter – it’s very nice and no bad thing to have something a little less substantial (that Hollywood rom-com take on Morricone is quite witty, too). Closing out the comedy section is “To Every Captive Soul” from Hannibal, a film that never fails to serve up some laughs. Joking apart, it’s actually a very fine piece of music – thoughtful and contemplative featuring a gorgeous violin solo, it’s a good selection from perhaps Zimmer’s most “classical”-sounding score.

The suite from The Lion King is unsurprisingly spectacular – still one of the composer’s finest achievements, it is music with great spirit, teeming with life. From the expansive “This Land” theme through the exciting action and culminating (of course) with colourful vocals joining in, it’s a real crowd-pleaser. Then we travel from the savannah to the wheat field to begin the three-part suite from Gladiator, with Lisa Gerrard coming into her own; the strained opening, “The Battle” and in particular the wonderful “Now We Are Free” all sound great. Inception‘s “Time” is another career highlight, then we finish with a two-part suite from Pirates of the Caribbean, which is big and fun and brings the house down.

The thing with compilation albums like this is that you always think about what you might have put on them instead of what is on them – but even though that happens all the time, this one is a particular head-scratcher when you first see the track list. I don’t know how many Zimmer fans you’d have to ask to come up with a set list for a symphonic concert of his music before one of them would have put ten minutes from Mission: Impossible 2 or “Best Friends” from Madagascar in there, but I imagine it would be a lot – however, this doesn’t just work, it works extremely well. It’s not as “symphonic” as the label implies – there’s plenty of keyboard work, drum kits and so on as well – but this is a far cry from the previous “Live in Prague” album, which I thought was very ropey – and I wonder if there was a deliberate attempt to distinguish the two by not having much material in common (there is some – but some scores that would seem much better suited to this environment than that one are notable by their absence this time, most notably Interstellar and more material from Inception, and basically anything pre-2000 apart from The Lion King). Surprising too that a long suite from Pirates doesn’t include “Up Is Down”, and that things like Backdraft and Crimson Tide aren’t on either album, but let’s not waste any more time on what isn’t here.

Zimmer personally chose the set list apparently and his team did the arrangements under his direction – many are similar to the film recordings, a few differ more substantially, but everything is done with thought. The performance is very good – all the various soloists make a good contribution – and it’s a good recording considering it was done live (there are smatterings of applause between some tracks but otherwise you wouldn’t know it was a live recording). The combination of some of the composer’s best-known scores with the more eccentric selections makes for a really impressive album, undoubtedly the best compilation of Zimmer’s music that’s been put out to date. The man has had a profound impact on film music, for better or worse, and this album presents a wide array of his music – some great tunes, some wit, some sophistication and a whole load of flamboyance. Now I’ll phone my bank to see if I can extend the mortgage on my house so I can afford to buy a ticket for the show itself.

Rating: **** 1/2

See also:
Live in Prague Hans Zimmer

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  1. JamesM (Reply) on Wednesday 5 June, 2019 at 07:43

    Thanks for the great review James. Particularly the part about MI:2 I thoroughly enjoyed that album and remembered it vividly from the film the first time i saw it at the cinema. I look forward to listening to this compilation

  2. Kalman (Reply) on Wednesday 5 June, 2019 at 12:09

    Great review, James! I agree on your view on Mission: Impossible 2. It sounds amazing! It is a CD I return to frequently.

  3. CedricA (Reply) on Thursday 6 June, 2019 at 21:11

    Hi there. I had the chance to hear the concerts corresponding to both albums. I have to say this album captures the actual ambiance better than Live in Prague. But I wanted to point out that Crimson Tides is the first part of the second track of Live in Prague.

  4. A. Rubinstein (Reply) on Friday 7 June, 2019 at 14:48

    The performance and arrangements here are indeed very good, but the selections feel like Zimmer is turning his back on his earlier work. It’s a shame because I think he was a much better composer back in the 90’s, and it’s barely represented here.