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Music of the Harry Potter films

" Stick to the originals "
Written by William Bard - Review of the regular release

It should not be surprising that Silva Screen Records would wish to cash in on the bestselling Harry Potter franchise, and this is the record label’s first compilation of music from the film series, focusing on music from just the first four films (thus, the music of John Williams and Patrick Doyle).

The all-too-familiar “Harry’s Wondrous World” opens the album, as should any good Harry Potter compilation. This piece really sets the tone for the scores, and the series as a whole; if I had to narrow all of my Harry Potter music listening down to just one track, this would definitely be the track I’d choose. It is a real cinematic masterpiece. The City of Prague Philharmonic gives a rousing attempt at this staple work of Williams’, but fall short of the glory that was to be had with the original London Symphony Orchestra recording.

“Nimbus 2000” is a previously unreleased track that is a very woodwind-heavy (maybe even only woodwinds!) rendition of – you guessed it – the Nimbus 2000 theme. “Fawkes the Phoenix”, “Dobby the House Elf”, “The Chamber of Secrets”, and “Gilderoy Lockhart” are all directly from the original Chamber of Secrets soundtrack, here played very well by the City of Prague Philharmonic. However, I can’t shake the feeling that this orchestra is just trying too hard to sound great; some of the playing in these tracks is significantly louder than in the original recordings, sounding a bit forced.

Our Goblet of Fire portion of this compilation begins with “Quidditch World Cup / The Foreigners Arrive”. Although originally released as two separate tracks, the track presented here does a nice job of connecting the two. The orchestra nicely captures Doyle’s fantasy atmosphere. “Harry In Winter” is well played, but just doesn’t have that emotional, sweeping feeling that the string section in the original recording was able to create.

“The Hogwarts March” is a favorite of mine from the original, and while the brass section here does a great job with it, I much prefer the faster tempo of the original. In addition, it should be noted that the mix in this recording sounds like a rather enormous brass section, while the original gives the impression of a small chamber ensemble. And, as we see the brass band in the film, it is safe to say that the original recording got it right. The volume and weightiness of this recording is a little over the top for my taste.

“The Potter Waltz” is much like its original recording, although, to my dismay, the French horn section is almost nonexistent here, even though they played such an integral role in the original recording. “The Black Lake” is noticeably slower than its original counterpart, although the ensuing “Another Year Ends” and “The Hogwarts Hymn” are gorgeously played; the orchestra does a fairly nice job blending. No complaints there.

Now, of course we must return to John Williams’ music to close out the album in true Harry Potter fashion! “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Suite (Mischief Mananged / A Window to the Past / Buckbeak's Flight)” is compiled from numerous tracks on the Prisoner of Azkaban soundtrack, and serves as a nice suite for the film’s music. However, this track also manages to bring out some of the orchestra’s flaws, and the strings occasionally sound on the brink of bad intonation, the horns get quite overexcited at the reprise of the Nimbus 2000 theme, and the trumpets sound harsh and forced. The timpani that opens the “Buckbeak’s Flight” portion is also not nearly as rhythmically sound as the timpani in the original recording.

The album closes with the famous “Hedwig’s Theme”, and this is another track that highlights the superiority of the original recording. The horn section slides into notes, the woodwind entrance of the Nimbus 2000 sounds somewhat weak, and the trumpets simply do not have that grand cinematic sound we have grown used to from the original. They sound brittle, some of the brass players crack notes and don’t sound together in their articulations, and the whole brass section decides to (for some reason unknown to me!) put obnoxious spaces in between notes which were much longer and fuller in the original. Not a good way to end an album.

At least we can be thankful that this album was released before Hooper’s scores to the fifth and sixth films, because I would so hate to hear a mediocre orchestra try and play what is likely the worst music in the franchise.

The bottom line is this: the City of Prague Philharmonic is what I’d call a grade C orchestra. They’re not the London Symphony Orchestra or Hollywood Studio Symphony, and even a majority of America’s average symphony orchestras could probably outplay them.

Silva needs to pull out the big bucks and hire an orchestra who can do film music at least as well as that which is heard on original soundtrack recordings, if not better. The idea of having different recordings of film music is akin to the reason there are many different recordings of classical works. The only difference is that there are already “definitive” recordings to compete against, in the case of film music. This makes an undertaking of this sort much more challenging. They’d do well to remember that next time.

Overall, this album is not necessarily worth your money unless you are a diehard Harry Potter fan, or unless you are simply curious at how another orchestra sounds playing the scores. But when we’ve already got such great recordings with the composers themselves conducting their works with world-class orchestras, one almost wonders what the point is in resorting to this for your Harry Potter music fix.

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