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Music Review: London Music Works and City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra – Music from the Batman Trilogy

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Most reviews to date are mixed regarding Music from the Batman Trilogy, a package of newly re-recorded selections from Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises film scores. There are no complaints about the quality of the recordings, but, as with the original soundtracks, not everyone is enamored with the compositions by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. It’s worth noting that potential purchasers of Music from the Batman Trilogy might easily be confused by online listings for the album. Some sites credit only the London Music Works as the sole performance ensemble of these compositions; others say “Various Artists.” To be specific, the London Music Works performs all but two of the selections. The two exceptions were recorded by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

As most film buffs know, among his many credits, Zimmer scored The Lion King, Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Da Vinci Code. While being the junior partner for the Batman scores, Howard’s resume is equally impressive, including music for Pretty Woman, The Prince of Tides, The Sixth Sense, and The Hunger Games.

Throughout the first two Batman films represented here, each composer was represented by both individual and collaborative passages, with Zimmer composing most of the action sequences, Howard the dramatic ones. Zimmer handled The Dark Knight Rises on his own. As a result, Music from the Batman Trilogy is largely a Zimmer show, with his work being roughly 2/3 of the material.

Of the five selections from Batman Begins, The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra only performs one track, Howard’s elegiac “Eptesicus.” The London Music Works presents the other four samples of somber drama. These include the main title “Vespertilio,” “Barbastella” (where the Waynes are killed and Bruce discovers the cave), “Antrozous,” And “Molossus,” the last being the main action theme. (The titles come from Latin names for bats.) The entire suite is a low-register, moody undercurrent of strings, especially cellos, horn, and percussion settings that don’t require the film’s imagery to convey the themes of menace and danger.

For the Grammy-winning The Dark Knight, Zimmer and Howard expanded their ranges with more distinctly individual compositions. Again, The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is represented by only one track, “Aggressive Expansion.” Again, the London Music Works performs four sections, including the Joker’s suite, “Why So Serious?,” built on two notes played by electric cello, violin, guitars and a string section. They also do renditions of “Like a Dog Chasing Cars,” “Introduce A Little Anarchy,” and “A Watchful Guardian.” In a sense, Howard takes a more traditional approach focused on strings and keyboards. Zimmer weaves in electric guitar, electronics, and timpani that punctuate as well as add emotional resonance to the Batman/Joker duel.

Finally, Zimmer is not only the sole composer for The Dark Knight Rises, the London Music Works performs all five passages including “Mind If I Cut In” (Selina Kyle’s theme), “Fear Will Find You,” “Why Do We Fall?,” “Imagine the Fire,” and “Rise.” By this point in the saga, the musical themes were essentially recapitulations of what had been established in the previous two films. The major new material, music composed for the Bane character, isn’t really showcased on this package.

Judging from the choices for this presentation, where The Dark Knight had expanded instrumentation to give the music more bite, The Dark Knight Rises was a more full circle score with a more pronounced symphonic sound. As a result, Music from the Batman Trilogy does feel like a complete musical experience that establishes themes, expands them, and then ties the threads together.

Without question, the Danny Elfman scores for the Tim Burton (and company’s) Batman outings are far more memorable than the Zimmer/Hoffman compositions. It will be a very finite audience that will want Music from the Batman Trilogy, which should largely be listeners who don’t already own all the official soundtrack albums.

Trilogy can’t supersede the full soundtracks, but it isn’t designed to do so. Rather, both orchestras consolidate the scores into a unified performance that will fill your speakers with what you remember from the theatre. If you liked what you heard then, you’ll appreciate what you hear now. Just don’t expect an Elfman-like musical ride that you can’t get out of your head.

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About Wesley Britton