Album review: Dedicated film music anthology from Deutsche Philharmonie Merck and Ben Palmer

Having film music available in both original soundtrack recordings and various re-recordings is an immense joy. Since the pioneering work of Bernard Herrmann and Charles Gerhardt, film music anthologies have mounted into an appealing sub-genre in the record market. Released in the eighties and early nineties, John Williams’s albums with the Boston Pops established a scheme for programming excerpts from great film scores into uplifting playlists, performed with dedication and delightful musicianship.

In similar vein, Deutsche Philharmonie Merck and their Chief Conductor Ben Palmer have teamed up to record a splendid anthology of selections from gorgeous film scores by Alan Menken, Michael Giacchino, Williams and Hans Zimmer, released on Coviello Classics under the title Magic of Movie 2. Coming in the heels of the orchestra’s first film music volume, recorded a couple of years earlier, the dics contains inspired takes on some of the most wonderful scores in the repertoire, presented in concert adaptations.

Paying homage to the grand old man of Hollywood, Palmer and the Philharmonie Merck provide the listener with no less than seven cues from John Williams. Alongside the Maestro’s contributions to the Star Wars original trilogy and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the album includes two more recent items from the Williams oeuvre, A Child’s Tale (2016) from Steven Spielberg’s The BFG and The Book Thief (2013). Both elaborate concert settings devised by the composer, the two latter cues shed light on the astonishing diversity of Williams’s musical vocabulary.

The captivating instrumental narrative of The Book Thief is conveyed with intimacy and finesse, whereas the good-spirited symphonic fantasy of A Child’s Tale is given an aptly glistering workout. Seguing into the realm of Harry Potter, the Merck players and Palmer take great care of the mist-hued anticipation of Hedwig’s Flight, setting the stage for orchestral enchantment with sensitivity and charm.

A showpiece par excellence for winds, Nimbus 2000 is beautifully served, with its Stravinskyan angular rhythms and spicy harmonies luminously articulated. Rounding off with an inspired take on Harry’s Wondrous World, the fairy-tale selection constitutes the heart of the album.

Complementing the Williams selection, two iconic themes from a galaxy far, far away are heard. Star Wars Main Title (1977) is given in its full majesty, whereas The Imperial March (1980) is abundant with ominous regal pomp. Side by side with the music from the original trilogy, a generous suite from Michael Giacchino’s extraordinary score for Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (2016) opens whole another symphonic perspective to the galaxy.

While keeping up with Williams’s musical guidelines, Giacchino ventures forth to develop the orchestral narrative of Star Wars into new grounds. Not an easy task for a composer, Giacchino manages to create a dazzling fusion of idioms, as marvellously demonstrated by the three selections from his score. The opening Jyn Erso and Hope Suite is performed with elegiac beauty, yielding to one of the absolute highlights on the album. The Imperial Suite, in its turn, establishes an aptly martial tone and the concluding Guardians of the Whills Suite comes off with solemn dignity, showcasing the creative teamwork between the orchestra and conductor.

Moving on to the final frontier, Giacchino’s Main Title from Star Trek (2009) is another stellar track. Not only do we get fine horn and cello solos, but also brilliant symphonic tour-de-force from the full ensemble. One of the composer’s most memorable works, the theme cue is an absolute must-repeat track.

The same virtues are at the surface of the extraordinary performance of Giacchino’s Jurassic World (2015). Another masterful orchestral showpiece, the seven-and-a-half-minute track keeps the listener on the edge of the seat from start to finish.

Opening the disc,Alan Menken’s Overture from Beauty and the Beast (1991) glistens with timeless orchestral magic. The performance captures the bewitching spirit of the music with invigorating flow, launching the album with orchestral splendour.

Further orchestral finesse is heard in Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator (2000), where Palmer and the Philharmonie Merck make the most of the twists and turns of the brief, six-minute suite, encompassing several key themes from the lavish score.

Added as a bonus track, the album concludes with Palmer’s The Journey Through Time: A Merck Symphony (2018). A delightful piece d’occasion by the Chief Conductor, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Merck KgaA company, the two-movement work combines a cinematic opening tableau with a kinetic post-minimalist essay, both dressed in multicolored orchestral garb by the Merck players under the composer’s direction.

Deutsche Philharmonie Merck

Ben Palmer, conductor

Alan Menken: Overture from ”Beauty and the Beast” (1991)

Michael Giacchino: Jurassic World (2015)

John Williams: A Child’s Tale from ”The BFG” (2016)

John Williams: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001): Hewdig’s Flight

John Williams: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001): Nimbus 2000

John Williams: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001): Harry’s Wondrous World

Hans Zimmer: Gladiator (2000)

Michael Giacchino: Main Title from ”Star Trek” (2009)

John Williams: The Book Thief (2013)

Michael Giacchino: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (2016): Jyn Erso and Hope Suite

Michael Giacchino: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (2016): The Imperial Suite

Michael Giacchino: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story (2016): Guardians of the Whills Suite

John Williams: Star Wars – A New Hope (1977): Main Title

John Williams: Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back (1980): The Imperial March

Ben Palmer: The Journey Through Time: A Merck Symphony (2018) (Bonus Track)

Recorded at Staatstheater Darmstadt, 15-16 March 2018

Coviello Classics COV91926, 1 CD

@ Jari Kallio

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