April 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Music from the Films of Harry Potter  
Music composed by John Williams and Patrick Doyle
Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted and produced by James Fitzpatrick
  Available on Silva Screen (TSQCD1206)
Running Time: 54:34
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Featuring music from:
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

See also:

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter?  Apparently it’s some sort of children’s book series.  I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it before.  They’ve clearly been keeping it quiet.  What’s that?  They’ve made some films of them?  Why don’t they market these things?  Oh well.  With a small budget, they could only afford up-and-coming composer Johnny Williams to provide a few tunes for the films.

    OK, I jest.  I have heard of Williams really.  With people queuing for literally days when a new book comes out in the series, kids buying broomsticks and circular spectacles by the score, and the films grossing a mindblowing three and a half billion dollars between them at the worldwide box office so far, Potter is nothing short of a phenomenon.  The films have been lovingly-made recreations of the novels, with each one arguably being better than the one before, and every British actor you’ve ever heard of playing some sort of role in them.  Indeed, the only real casting mis-step was young Daniel Radcliffe as Harry himself, a child actor in the old-fashioned mould of being able to stare effectively and open his eyes very wide when he needs to be scared, but not actually able to actively act; I’m sure that being the son of the casting director made it a grueling audition process for him.

    Directing the first two films was Christopher Columbus, taking time out from discovering the new world – a busy man.  He’s not the subtlest of directors and this extended to the use of music, which frankly was hugely overblown and overwhelming in the sound mix used by the film.  Being composed by John Williams, it was constantly interesting and featured some wonderful themes (one of which, ‘Hedwig’s Theme’, has already entered into the popular imagination alongside the composer’s other classics) – all of which meant it worked rather more successfully on disc than in the movies.  The first score introduced the two main themes (Hedwig’s and ‘Harry’s Wondrous World’) and featured a lot of loud setpieces; the second, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was slightly more restrained, and brought in ‘Fawkes the Phoenix’, a gorgeous theme in the classic Williams tradition.  There were three other showpiece themes introduced, ‘Dobby the House Elf’ – you’d swear you were listening to ‘Home Alone’ – ‘The Chamber of Secrets’, a darker, more mysterious and menacing piece – and the comedic ‘Gilderoy Lockhart’ for the bumbling character played by Kenneth Branagh, featuring some wonderfully lighthearted harpsichord.  Generally, the first two scores see Williams combining the black magic of his superb The Witches of Eastwick with the larger-than-life fantasy of Hook.

    If the first two scores in the series were impressive, they were nothing compared with the third, The Prisoner of Azkaban, a stunning piece of work by the veteran composer featuring some of his most inspired writing in years.  All of a sudden, a new director (Alfonso Cuaron), one imagines with a far greater understanding of how to use music in a film, seemed to inspire Williams to step up to an even higher gear.  With slightly baroque stylings at times, the composer even evoked memories of his early score for Jane Eyre in some parts.  The delightfully lilting, wistful ‘A Window to the Past’ is one of his most wonderful creations; the explosively soaring ‘Buckbeat’s Flight’ a real heartstopper; and the witty song ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ a refreshing departure.  All in all, an incredible achievement.

    Yet another new director – Mike Newell - for the fourth film – The Goblet of Fire – and this time Williams was too busy to come back, so Newell renewed acquaintances with Patrick Doyle, one of the names frequently banded about by people before the assignment became official.  Following up Williams’s Azkaban with something quite so special was always going to be a real challenge, but wisely Doyle decided to take the music down a very different path and not really try to compete. Unsurprisingly there’s a far more 19th century British feel to it, and if he doesn’t come close to matching Williams’s themes, he (at least partially) makes up for it by writing a broader, more through-composed score, featuring some lovely, colourful passages of great beauty (highlighted by ‘Harry in Winter’), some comedic source cues (‘The Hogwarts March’, ‘The Potter Waltz’), thunderous action music (‘The Black Lake’) and – playing entirely against expectations – an Irish jig for ‘Quidditch World Cup’!  It’s not Williams, and nor should it be – it’s pure Doyle, and the score is a blast.

    Silva Screen has now decided to capitalize on the popularity of the music from the films by releasing this hour-long compilation of music from all four.  Generally, the City of Prague Philharmonic’s performance is fine, though I’m not sure the generally incredibly-crisp recording, which allows lots of detail of the performance to shine through, really does the CPO any favours.  Conversely, occasionally there’s an awful lot of artificially-created reverb, which gives the recording a slightly strange feel, though never ruinously so.  Sadly, the best score (by far) in the series – Azkaban – is represented by a solitary seven-minute piece; the brand new Goblet of Fire gets seven tracks, totaling over 20 minutes.  It’s a very enjoyable album, though in every case the scores are complex and varied enough that a short suite like this isn’t nearly so satisfying as the whole thing – and as such, the market for the album will surely be casual fans of the films more than hardcore film music collectors, who of course will already have all of the original albums and could make their own (frankly, better-performed!) compilation album of exactly the same music from those.  It’s certainly enjoyable and will satisfy the target audience, so in that respect, job done (or “mischief managed”, as some might say).

    James Southall

    Rating: 3

    Michael McLennan adds:-

    I quite liked the idea of this compilation from Silva. Both the first Harry Potter soundtrack albums felt like they were stretching some strong thematic material a bit too thinly, so the idea of gathering the excellent themes from those two scores together with the best of the third and fourth film scores seemed a good way to take stock on just how much musical excellence this series has given filmgoers so far.

    And the execution’s pretty good too. The City of Prague sometimes doesn’t bear close scrutiny – their renderings of Howard Shore’s detailed writing for the Lord of the Rings trilogy felt more like an insufficiently rehearsed ensemble than a conductor’s alternative interpretation. Here though, the performances are pretty good. It’s nice to hear the timpani solo at the start of the ‘Buckbeak’s Flight’ handled so nicely. On the other hand, the Doyle writing, which one would think was easier to perform than that of Williams, seems to be the weakest – with a slower tempi all over, and one distracting edit from the ‘Quidditch World Cup’ to ‘The Foreigners Arrive’.

    I think my only qualm here would be with the selection of material. Selections from Chamber of Secrets and Goblet of Fire feel excessive – with ‘Dobby the House Elf’, ‘Gilderoy Lockhart’, ‘The Hogwarts March’ and ‘The Potter Waltz’ all feeling a little unnecessary. Some of the superb overlooked Williams material includes ‘The Face of Voldermort’, ‘Diagon Alley’, and of course some of the many highlights from one of John Williams’ latter day masterpieces: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. There are so many wonderful cues in that score: ‘Aunt Marge’s Waltz’, ‘Knight Bus’, ‘Secrets of the Castle’, ‘Forward to Time Past’, ‘The Whomping Willow and the Snowball Fight’ and ‘Finale’. It seems leaving any one of them out is a shame. Doyle’s romantic waltz for Neville would have also been a nice inclusion. But perhaps these are all incentives for people to purchase the albums themselves. Certainly what is there of the Azkaban score are the essentials – the themes for ‘Something Wicked this Way Comes’, Harry’s parents and Buckbeak.

    One can only hope that with the (hopefully) bags of gold Silva Screen will pull in with this release, it isn’t too long before that label returns to regularly re-recording film music that isn’t already performed better on previous releases. Is a compilation devoted to music from the films of a classic director like Akira Kurosawa or Krystof Kieslowski too much to hope for? Or a Spartacus or Quo Vadis rerecording? One thing’s for sure – with the next Harry Potter film due in 2007, this compilation will very likely be updated then with new material from whichever composer gets that plum assignment. May it be one as worthy as Doyle and Williams. (Chris Gordon seems a good example.)

    Michael McLennan

    3.5

    Track Listing:

    1. Harry’s Wondrous World
    2. Nimbus 2000
    3. Fawkes The Phoenix
    4. Dobby The House Elf
    5. The Chamber Of Secrets
    6. Gilderoy Lockhart
    7. Quidditch World Cup/Foreign Visitors Arrive
    8. Harry In Winter
    9. Hogwart's March
    10. Potter Waltz
    11. Black Lake
    12. Another Year Ends
    13. Hogwarts Hymn
    14. The Prisoner Of Azkaban – Suite (Mischief Managed/Window To The Past/Buckbeak’s Flight)
    15. Hedwig’s Theme

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