Film Score Friday: ‘The Complete Harry Potter Film Music Collection’ by The City of Prague Philharmonic

One of my favorite things to cover in my weekly film score review is compilations. These sets are the most easily digestible forms of film music, and represented my entry into the world. It was the combined ‘Best Of’ albums of John Williams, James Horner and Danny Elfman that captivated me so much as a child. Now I take great pleasure in shining a light on these sets today, hoping that some non film score fans give them a shot.

In the world of film music compilations there is a top dog who has been releasing stellar sets over and over again. Silva Screen Records has been nailing it with re-recorded compilations of some of today’s most recognizable franchises. Mostly using the excellent City of Prague Philharmonic, these sets have been some of the most fun I have been able to review in my many months of writing about film music.

Today’s set is no exception, The Complete Harry Potter Film Music Collection is a well crafted, well performed and generally a great listen from start to finish. The set smashes together musical highlights from the eight film series that takes you on a journey from the optimistic sense of wonder in the first film all the way through the dark and dangerous end. It is a musical time-capsule that follows the decade long franchise.

The set is separated into two discs, the first being selected tracks from the John Williams scored first three films. This first disc devoted to just the Williams music is where you will hear the most iconic Harry Potter themes. ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ is the basic main theme of the whole series, and starts the whole thing off pretty appropriately.

The style with which Williams wrote the first two scores is very similar to one another. They have that classic sounding Williams flare that worked exceptionally well in the Christopher Columbus movies. Their presentation on the set is also well executed. Sounding very much like the original recordings, and doing an excellent job of inserting the listener into the Harry Potter musical world.

The third film had one of William’s best scores of the decade. It was eccentrically nutty while still maintaining a broad mass appeal. The Prisoner of Azkaban also had some of the most endearing themes William’s wrote for the series, especially the music associated with Harry’s search for answers about his parent’s from Professor Lupin.

Unfortunately, because of what the music was, the re-recordings of it on this set are noticeably sub-par. That is not to say it is bad, it just misses a quality that the original had and made so good. It doesn’t bring down the set very much, as it is just one film’s music, but it might be the best of the series so it is worth noting that the music did disappoint a little.

As for the second disc, we are treated to the last five film’s music composed by Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper and Alexandre Desplat respectively. It is tough to fit a quality selection of five full scores into just seventeen tracks, but they made the smart choice in focusing heavily on two scores and only presenting a track or two for the rest.

The most underrated score of the entire series is from The Goblet of Fire. Patrick Doyle’s sole contribution to the series is a rich, lush and beautiful addition to the Potter universe. My only issue with these tracks is that there are several themes from the soundtrack I did miss in this collection. I understand why this problem happened, as I myself have a hard time pinpointing which existing track should be axed in favor of what is missing.

Still it is a shame that the music from Harry and Voldemort’s first encounter is not on the disc. The scene where Harry comes face to face with he who must not be named and is aided by the spectral echoes of his parents is perhaps one of my favorite pieces of music from the last decade of film scores.

The other film that gets a good chunk of attention is The Order of the Phoenix, which was clearly Hooper’s best work in the series. The music is a bit out of order from it’s appearance in the film, which is odd, but everything from the Hooper scores actually translates the best in this re-record. I actually prefer the Prague Philharmonic’s recordings better than the original, which is hard to do in this context.

By the time you get the Alexandre Desplat’s music from the last two films you only have about five minutes left of actual music time. Honestly though, I can only think of one other track from those two movies that should have been on this set. Desplat’s scores set the mood for the films beautifully, and was really wonderful in the context of it’s own soundtrack, but I understand why so little of his music made it to this disc.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Harry’s Wonderous World by John Williams – ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ might be the main theme for the whole Potter shebang, but this track is where my mind goes when I think back on the Williams era early films. It just has that essence of awe and amazement that captured so many minds when the series just started. I was not a Potter book fan before the films, and music like this is a big reason why my mind wouldn’t leave the wondrous world of Harry Potter after I left the theater. It probably also helps that this track is so brilliantly preformed by the City of Prague Philharmonic, it really sets a great tone for the rest of the set.

Harry In Winter by Patrick Doyle – It was actually very hard to pinpoint a single favorite track from the Doyle selections on the set. Even though my favorite isn’t even on the album, all of the music is just so wonderful. I am a big fan of this particular track because it really plays on the burgeoning love of young Mr. Potter. Love plays a vital role in the series, and I am not just talking romance love, I am talking about the various and important types of love that bonds people together. This track is a beautiful piece that punctuates what is in Harry’s mind at this pivotal moment in his life.

Flight of the Order of the Phoenix by Nicholas Hooper – One of the great crimes of the entire Harry Potter film score experience is that this theme didn’t make a bigger impact than it did. This music makes me want to fly! I was always very fond of this track, but what puts it over the top for me on this set is that the recording is actually better than the original. There is something much more epic in this version. Hooper doesn’t get a ton of love for his Potter scores, but he is an excellent composer who is more than capable of crafting big and exciting themes such as this. If only he would have explored it more and incorporated it into more of the film.

Least Favorite Track:

The Knight Bus by John Williams – Sad that the Azkaban tracks had to be sub-par. It is understandable though, the music is so eclectic and unique, no track more so than The Knight Bus. It is just hard to replicate that sound with out the resources William’s had at his disposal. A valiant effort though, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give props to the City of Prague Philharmonic for the attempt, but it just doesn’t connect with me. I am glad these tracks are here, but I won’t be heading to this collection when I want to get an Azkaban musical fix.

At the end of the day this is a wonderful set. One of my favorite the Silva Screen guys have released yet. The journey from the first film to the last, via their scores, is an fun one to take. If it wasn’t for those pesky Prisoner of Azkaban tracks I would be giving out another perfect five, but despite that one shortcoming, the whole album is thoroughly worth your time.

Final Score for The Complete Harry Potter Film Music Collection

4.5 out of 5

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