Hans Zimmer: The Classics (CD review)

Various artists; Gavin Greenaway, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Sony Classical 88985322812.

     "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
     "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
     "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master--that's all."

I couldn't help thinking of that exchange in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass when I saw the title of this 2017 Sony release. Was composer and record producer Hans Zimmer (b. 1957) conducting classical music or classic film scores? Did the title refer to the music of Hans Zimmer as "classic," or did it refer to the movies for which Zimmer composed the music as classics? Well, maybe a little of the latter, although to call either the movies or the Zimmer soundtrack music for them "classics" may be a little hyperbolic. I suggest we give the movies and the music another fifty years before calling them "classics."

Anyway, what we have here is almost an hour of bits and pieces of music Zimmer composed for nine popular motion pictures. Which is part of the problem: Nothing lasts for more than a few minutes. So it's not as if we're getting major chunks of each movie's score. It's more like a quick hit parade of some of Zimmer's bestsellers. The fact is, Zimmer has composed music for over 150 films, so nine isn't really a big number,

Whatever, Gavin Greenaway, John Ashton Thomas, Stjepan Hauser, and Luka Sulic arranged each brief selection for the present album, and composer Wibi Soerjadi transcribed yet another of the tracks. Then Sony got some of their top recording artists (Lindsey Stirling, The Piano Guys, Lang Lang, Till Bronner, Tina Guo, Amy Dickson, Leona Lewis, Maxim Vengerov, Khatia Buniatishvili, 2Cellos, and Robert Saver) to help perform them, accompanied by Mr. Greenaway and the Czech Philharmonic.

Here's a rundown of the complete listing:

Main Theme from The Dark Knight Rises
(with Lindsey Stirling)
Themes from Pirates of the Caribbean
(with The Piano Guys)
"Gladiator Rhapsody" from Gladiator
(with Lang Lang)
Main Theme from Crimson Tide
(with Till Brönner)
"Time" from Inception
(with Tina Guo)
"This Land" from The Lion King
(with Amy Dickson)
"Now We Are Free" from Gladiator
(with Leona Lewis)
"Flight" from Man of Steel
(with Lang Lang and Maxim Vengerov)
"Light" from The Thin Red Line
(with Maxim Vengerov)
The Battle Scene from Gladiator
(with Khatia Buniatishvili)
"Mombasa" from Inception
(with 2Cellos)
The Docking Scene from Interstellar
(with Roger Sayer)

Hans Zimmer
How much you like any of this material and whether there is enough of it to satisfy you may, of course, depend largely on your own taste. For me, it was too little of any one thing, and it caught my attention only in short spurts. There's no denying, however, that the performers are up to their tasks, everything sounding just fine.

My own favorites among the tracks include the various themes from Pirates of the Caribbean for their undeniable panache; the main theme from Crimson Tide for its rising dramatic effect; "Time" from Inception for its atmospheric attributes; "Now We Are Free" from Gladiator mainly for Leona Lewis's contribution; "Light" from The Thin Red Line for its lyrical intensity; "Mombasa" from Inception for its rhythmic pitch. And the winner is: Inception. I think I might have preferred Greenaway and the Czech players doing an entire album of music from just this one film.

Producer Chris Craker and engineers Nick Wollage, John Chapman, Shane Edwards, Dave Rowell, Chris Connor, Robert Sattler, Benoit Bel and Philipp Nedel recorded the music, and Sony Music Entertainment released the album in 2017. The sound is OK, if in its own pop-music fashion. It's close and appears compartmentalized, with selected instruments well out in front, spotlighted. Definition is good, frequency balance favors the upper midrange, dynamics are strong, and orchestral depth is moderate. There's also a slightly abrasive quality about some of it, too, a bit of raspiness at the higher end and an overall hard metallic quality. I doubt anyone will care.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa