Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


John WILLIAMS Midway Rick Wentworth conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5940 [35:48]  


Crotchet (UK)

There couldn’t be a more fascinating time to look at the career and style of Williams. Midway came right after the hullabaloo of Jaws’ success, and just before the milestone of Star Wars. It has not been possible before now, since no recording was made available at the time of the film (1976). Instead the main theme - that of "The Midway March" - has teased us in concert repertoires and on collection albums. Here it is in its full glory and it provides some telling pre-echoes of the later music that has popularised the man so much.

The decisive Battle of Midway was pretty potent material - cinematically speaking, and a stellar cast always seems to raise the stakes for the creative talent involved. To Williams it spoke of patriotic pride about the heroics leading to victory. It shines through in the fanfares for brass that have become the composer’s ‘trademark’. If you want to swell the chests of a crowd with pride, who else do you turn to ?

After the brief "Prologue" which is essentially a bugle call rendition of the March, "Main Title" features some very interesting piano figures over snare drumming. It is a disarmingly different voice from Williams since it does not re-appear in the rest of the score, which like the remainder of the cue instead plays upon our familiarity with later works. A quieter moment of reflection from "Yamamoto’s Choice" is a red herring with "Signal Corps Con" picking up the drama. In both, a lighter piano touch demonstrates just how subtle a master of underscore Williams can be. That is even more evident in "Haruko’s Dilemma", where a flute and harp are as gentle as a sea breeze.

What tends to happen with the chronological sequencing of the album, is a series of lulls and crescendos. For every quiet interlude such as "Missing The Flatlands", there is the militaristic suspense and cymbal crash filled drama of "Morning Of The Battle". The peaks and troughs do not dilute the enjoyment of the music. Whereas with another composer’s style it might tire of such choppy swaying, with Williams it as a prolonged teasing - in expectation of the inevitable March.

Alluded to above were forecasts of music to come contained within this score. It would be extremely picky to latch onto more than a few specific examples. I would cite an early part of "Men Of The Yorktown March" as calling up an image of the Rebellion’s Throne Room from the end of Star Wars. "Hiroshima Harbour" smacks of upcoming hero Indiana Jones before some subtle oriental flavours take over. In many places, the style of both those trilogies is evoked. Like the sequencing, this isn’t something detrimental to the music itself but merely a welcome insight to the frame of mind within which Williams was obviously in during the mid ‘70s to mid ‘80s.

The two Marches naturally finish the disc in some style, although strictly speaking "Men of the Yorktown" isn’t a March in the truest sense. Originally, it came as a bonus B-side to a Japanese single release of the main theme. "Midway" itself is the real toe-tapping feel-good jingoistic jaunt. With a pipe at counterpoint to the snare rumbling and of course the theme itself picked out on trumpet, it is quintessential Williams.


Paul Tonks


Paul Tonks

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