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John Williams At The Movies
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Olympic Fanfare and Theme (1984) [4:32]
The Cowboys (1972) Overture [9:49]
Superman (1978) March [4:30]
Close Encounters of the Third Kind – excerpts (1977) [7:55]
Lincoln (2012) With Malice Toward None [4:19]
Star Wars (1977) Main Title [5:47]
The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Imperial March [3:21]
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Scherzo for X-Wings [2:23]; The Jedi Steps and Finale [9:44]
JFK (1991) Theme [5:15]
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1980) Adventures on Earth [10:42]
1941 (1979) March [4:29]
The Star-Spangled Banner (2014) [2:57]
Christopher Martin (trumpet)
Dallas Winds/Jerry Junkin
rec. 2016, Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas
Reviewed as a 24/176.4 download from Reference Recordings
Pdf booklet included

Scrolling through John Williams’s extensive worklist triggers an avalanche of movie memories; from William Wyler’s 1966 comedy How to Steal a Million (music credited to one Johnny Williams) through to iconic themes for George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy, Richard Donner’s Superman and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. The screed of nominations and actual awards surely confirms the composer’s reputation as one of the greats, joining the likes of Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa, Nino Rota and Jerry Goldsmith.

From Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys and Baftas to Grammys, where Reference Recordings’ leading man, ‘Prof’ Keith O. Johnson, has garnered one award and notched up another eight nominations. I’ve reviewed two of his more recent releases, Organ Polychrome (a Recording of the Month and Year) and Wine Dark Sea. The latter showcased the multi-talented University of Texas Wind Ensemble led by Jerry Junkin, a partnership I first encountered in Shadow of Sirius. As for the Dallas Winds, formerly the Dallas Wind Symphony, this is their 18th recording for Reference.

What better way to get start than with the fanfare and theme Williams wrote for the opening ceremony at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. There’s a broad, arresting sense of spectacle, so familiar from his epic movie scores, plus a dash of Copland. As with all composers of quality, Williams knows and draws on the music of his antecedents, yet still manages to find his own, unmistakable ‘voice’. The band respond with startling clarity and noble mien, and the wide, deep soundstage adds to the sense of occasion. The recording, like the performance, is focused on the music, and that’s precisely what I’ve come to expect from this source.

Time to ‘fess up, not once but twice. First, I’ve not heard the Dallas Winds before, but even at this early stage it’s clear they are a fine ensemble, disciplined and immensely refined. And second, I’ve never seen The Cowboys, even though I was mad about Westerns in my youth. The overture is Bonanza meets William Tell, with slow pans that bring to mind the high, wide vistas so emblematic of the genre. Of course, collections such as this are of keen interest to movie fans in general, but they are also useful to music lovers in particular. Even more so when the scores are played – and recorded – as professionally as they are here.

In this age of Marvel superheroes and impossibly arch villains, it’s good to have DC’s simple, clean-cut Superman reprised in this wonderfully affirmative march. Junkin draws crisp, buoyant playing from his band, the lovely instrumental blend revealed by the uncluttered, ‘hear through’ nature of this recording. And if we believed a man could fly, we had no difficulty suspending disbelief in Close Encounters. Its weird glissandi and discreet but thrilling organ pedal are superbly caught, as are the bass drum and cymbals. That said, it’s the open-hearted nature of the writing that ambushes one’s emotions every time. This is what movie magic is all about, and the hushed close – the deep spell as yet unbroken – is no exception.

Williams has long been Spielberg’s composer of choice – like Hitchcock and Herrmann, they are a consistently synergic fit – so it’s no surprise that he scored the 2012 biopic, Lincoln. Yes, there’s something of Copland here as well, the plainer passages hinting at the simple soul behind the stirring oratory. It’s all so adroitly done, the New York Phil’s principal trumpet, Christopher Martin, supremely assured in his solos. As for the opening of Star Wars, Junkin really underlines the links to Gustav Holst – Mars, anyone? – and Richard Wagner.

Now this is rep where performers and engineers might be tempted to overplay their hand; thankfully, good taste and good judgment are the watchwords here, so the music retains all its vaunting splendour without sounding overblown or overlong.

Once more, natural balances and a preponderance of ear-pricking detail – so much a part of Wine Dark Sea – serve the music admirably. There’s plenty of thrust and weight when it’s needed, as in the strut and swagger of the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back. With the volume turned up, the percussion emerges with all the frisson one could wish for. It helps that Junkin is so proportionate in everything he does here.

Moving on, the two excerpts from The Force Awakens seem unusually symphonic, with well-defined content and a clear sense of purpose. Also, there’s some very nimble, nicely articulated playing. As for the dark-hued theme to Oliver Stone’s JFK, it shows Williams at his brooding and expansive best. The side drum has terrific presence here, as have those mighty cymbal clashes at the start of Adventures on Earth, from ET. Fresh and freewheeling, this is such disarming music, its wistful moments so memorable. Less so, perhaps, is Spielberg’s 1941, although its spirited march is a notable success. Ditto Williams’s take on The Star-Spangled Banner, its joyful plosions a fitting finale.

Quietly sensational; a must for movie fans and audiophiles alike.

Dan Morgan


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