The Music of Hans Zimmer with the CBSO – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Conductor: Nicholas Buc

Hans Zimmer’s film-score legacy reaches even further than that sword-thrown by Maximus following his, “Are you not entertained?’ hissy-fit aimed at the pampered provincials.

Well, they certainly weren’t, what with having their olive obliterated and wine goblets trashed, but by this evening’s reckoning Symphony Hall was certainly going to be gloriously entertained.

Spanning over five decades, Zimmer’s opus has more disparate boxes ticked than a baton can be shaken at. If he’s good enough for Ridley Scott, Thelma and Louise, aforementioned referenced Gladiator, or late brother, Tony’s, Days of Thunder,/Crimson Tide, he doesn’t really need to pitch a resumé for any up-and-coming work any time soon

From the groundbreaking My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) to Muppet Treasure Island (1996) six scores in total that year,(Wikipedia) he’s hardly a slouch.

The buzz in the pre-performance bars is what’s going to be in this evening’s programme. Certainly, someone’s going to go home disappointed because their Zimmer all-time favourite didn’t make it on the final score sheet. Sure, there will be enough to keep them happy all the same. The programme lists the evening’s performances. Look away now, spoiler alert. The penultimate finale opens with Gladiator: Suite climaxing with the ‘Now we are Free’, the rousing, ethereal splendour collaboration with neoclassical dark wave pioneer (Dead Can Dance) Lisa Gerard.

Shaun Ley’s BBC iPlayer interview, (HARDtalk, 2016) has Zimmer as the most affable of gentlemen – as affing can be. Loves his anecdotes: Christopher Nolan sends an untitled one-page resumé of an idea. Would HZ like to throw some ideas around. HZ invites CN to listen to what he’s got. CN looks with wistful reflection. ‘Well, I guess I have to make the film now!’ Exit CN to begin storyboarding Interstella. Of his work, he tells Shaun Ley, ‘…it’s a struggle, but a glorious struggle.’ And what of The Lion King? ‘A requiem to my father…’ He died when HZ was six. And of The Dark Knight? ‘100% Punk Score!’ Indeed, we are entertained – to the Max. ‘We Germans have no sense of humour.’ He jokes.

The Symphony Hall tarts itself as ever as the ridiculous brilliance of all things near perfect for a performance venue. Part kitsch Art Deco bands of chrome and red with the lighting canopy in the Gods, a homage to the USS Enterprise and the Close Encounters Mother ship.

It’s a thirteen-selection set interspersed with some Zimmer background biog and a tad of jostle and banter between presenter, Andrew Pogson, and aesthete conductor, Nicholas Buc, the latter cited as ‘…the only person in the world to have conducted all three original Star Wars films in concert…in one day!’ Dan Golding’s programme notes are a delight in themselves. Of the Zimmer opus, he writes of, ‘…simple musical ideas suffused into extremities.’

It is a no-nonsense, committed, near full-to-the-brim band tonight: serious strings, non-ferrous heavy metal from the brass section and nuclear-grade fission percussion. Given the primal velocity of the beats, it would be no surprise if velociraptors might any time burst through the big bass drum skin – possibly on loan from a local circus parade.

The kick-ass brass section is excellent during the the climax of set opening Sherlock Holmes: Discombobulate (look it up!). The empathic, echoes of English Romanticism come to the fore during the Driving Miss Daisy Theme. Nuances of rural American folk roots and Aaron Copeland can’t be dismissed. Kathrine Lacy’s haunting hoe-down principal clarinet refrains are duly applauded. And so it goes – hare and tortoise paced.

Conductor, Nicholas Buc teases with tricks of the trade where Zimmerman experiments with major/minor key shifts and wound down tempos pared down to a two-note austerity. Hence the hypnotic dynamic of Inception. Tectonic plates collide where infected dreams are manipulated in an Escher-like perpetual Mobius strip. Who would have thought that Edith Piaf’s je ne regrette rien would get a name-check? There’s a pithy audience participation homage to the 60s TV Batman series – ‘Dinner, dinner, dinner – BATMAN!’ Shame Nelson Riddle didn’t get a namecheck. Cue Batman trilogy: The Dark Knight Suite.

Now it is time to get seriously serious as the mighty Symphony Hall organ manuals – piped directly, apparently, from the bellows in the belly of Hades – submit to the maestro digits of keyboardist, Rupert Jeffcoat. All hail the Interstellar: Symphonic Suite, overdrive pumped up to the max and beyond.

But it is the one they’ve really been waiting for: the Gladiator Suite. The Holst Mars-inspired opening battle sequence is given a serious dusting down. Odd isn’t it that the dog that saves Maximus’ life from the axe-wielding Teutonic savage is a German Shepherd!

Lotte Betts-Dean, mezzo-soprano, sends shivers of ecstatic enchantment down the collectives spines of the audience as she celebrates the ’Now We Are Free’ refrain from the Gladiator scene in which Maximus, is beckoned by Lucilla (Connie Nelson) to finally, ‘Go to them.’ Stern stuff those tonight who didn’t stifle a tear or so. ‘From Victorian London to the edge of the galaxy – the music of Hans Zimmer makes the heart pound and the imagination soar.’ writes programme contributor, Dan Golding. Indeed so. And he only had a couple of piano lessons: it’s just not fair! Anol Shalom.

Reviewed on 21 June 2024

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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