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CD Review

John T. Williams

A Tribute

An 80th Birthday Celebration
  • Sound the Bells! 1
  • Out to Sea / The Shark Cage Fugue from Jaws 2
  • Theme from Sabrina 3,a
  • March from 1941 2
  • Adventures on Earth from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 2
  • Dartmoor, 1912 from War Horse 5
  • The Adventures of Mutt from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 5
  • Harry's Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 5
  • Elegy for Cello and Orchestra 1,b
  • Going To School from Memoirs of a Geisha5,b
  • The Mission (Theme for NBC News) 1
  • Theme from Schindler's List 3,a
  • The Adventure Continues from The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn 5
  • Throne Room and Finale from Star Wars 4
  • Happy Birthday Variations 1
a Itzhak Perlman, violin
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
1 Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles/John Williams
2 Boston Pops Orchestra/John Williams
3 Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/John Williams
4 Skywalker Symphony Orchestra/John Williams
5 Studio Orchestra/John Williams
Sony Classical 8691-94253-2 70min
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This album is a tribute to composer John Williams to mark his eightieth birthday. It presents an attractive collection of his works, many of them excerpts and almost all previously issued. This CD should please his many fans, though they may already possess many of these performances. It may therefore have greater value as an introduction to his music for those unfamiliar with Williams and his work in films and the concert hall. The closing piece, Happy Birthday Variations, is a premiere issue, even though it was originally recorded in 1999.

Perlman's playing in the Theme from Sabrina is sensitive and utterly ravishing, and Williams abets him in leading the Pittsburgh Symphony with an incisive hand. The ensuing March from 1941 finds Williams and his one-time orchestra, the Boston Pops, in a festive and colorful mood, rendering this upbeat piece with a spirited and thoroughly infectious joy. It would be hard to imagine a more committed performance. The same forces do exceedingly well with Adventures on Earth from E.T., the longest cue on the disc, clocking in at nearly ten minutes.

From the original motion picture soundtrack Williams leads a vibrant performance of The Adventure of Mutt from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Of a completely different character is the tragic composition Elegy for Cello and Orchestra, a concert work written to mark the loss of two children of a violinist friend of Williams. Yo-Yo Ma is in fine form in the work and conveys the heartfelt sense of tragedy with true conviction. Along with the Theme from Schindler's List, the Elegy is the most serious music on this disc. In the Schindler piece Perlman once again turns in fine work in this account with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

The Mission Theme, written for NBC Nightly News, is catchy and performed brilliantly by the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles, which must be a pickup ensemble, possibly drawn from the Los Angeles Philharmonic or other West Coast orchestra.

The Skywalker Symphony Orchestra, undoubtedly another such ensemble, performs admirably for Williams in the Throne Room and Finale from Star Wars. This is music that Star Wars mavens and even casual admirers of the Star Wars film series will cherish. As for the Happy Birthday Variations, the piece begins with a witty sort of Stravinskyan statement of the theme on horns, and then the tongue-and-cheek manner continues on percussion but later turns a bit subdued on harp. The overall sense of festivity and good-natured fun, however, prevail throughout. The other items are performed skillfully here and the sound, while possibly different from track to track, is clear and powerful. All in all, this CD is a well-chosen selection from Williams' more popular works that should have great appeal.

Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings