November 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Curio Corner

John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Treesong (2000)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1974-76, rev. 1998)
Three Pieces from Schindler's List (1993)
  Gil Shaham (violin), Boston Symphony Orchestra, John Williams
Recorded Boston 1999 & 2000 - Full Price
  G 471 362-2 [66.05]
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This beautiful disc should win quite a few admirers - both for the music and for the soloist, Gil Shaham. Shaham is probably the finest violinist of his generation, the natural heir to Perlman, and the only violinist of the Dorothy Delay school of violin teaching who has anything remotely like an individual sound, blessed as he is with the ability to spin a bel canto line of pure soul-searching sound. Either live on the stage, or recorded on disc, a Shaham concert is high quality - and his sound is both instantly identifiable and instantly unforgettable. At one stage during the Waltonian slow movement of the Violin Concerto he produces a pianissimo of such breathtaking clarity and beauty it is literally heart-stopping. The excerpts from Schindler's List put his sound into perspective: the three pieces have an elegance and tonal refinement that is utterly compelling to hear (and the recording he is given is simply sumptuous). Yet, whilst superficially beautiful they are also as moving as Perlman's were for the original soundtrack, even if Shaham does not surpass Perlman's own recording of them. Perlman is simply elemental in a way unlikely to be surpassed born, as it were, to play this music.

The Schindler's List excerpts, part of one of the supreme film scores of the last thirty years, shows Williams in his most classical vein. His two violin works have similar classical strength - reminding me slightly of Korngold, who moved between the two genres effortlessly, even if the music is very unlike Korngold's. If Treesong, is more idiomatic (although almost reminiscent of late Takemitsu) it is the revised 1998 Violin Concerto which impresses most. A work obviously indebted to the concertos of Prokofiev and Walton it shares with those composers' concertos an intense lyricism and almost paralysing virtuosity in the outer movements: the opening bars, for example, scale almost two-and-a-half octaves and elsewhere there are virtuosic flourishes that border on the frenetic. Treesong shimmers like a mist, and the soloist is often required to turn his instrument into a passionate, solitary voice. Binding both works together is a masterful grasp of the symphonic, the orchestration kaleidoscopic in its imaginative brilliance.

Both the Boston Symphony Orchestra (long term collaborators with Williams) and Gil Shaham give totally dedicated performances. A wonderful disc, and a beautifully recorded one too.

Marc Bridle

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