Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


John WILLIAMS Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace London Symphony Orchestra, London Voices, and The New London Children's Choir conducted by John Williams SONY CLASSICAL SK 61816 [74:13]





You have to be dead, deaf, or a hermit not to know Williams' scores to the original Star Wars Trilogy, so I probably could get away with just mentioning that "The Phantom Menace" is a throwback to the days of technically solid, emotionally thrilling, thoroughly entertaining film music. On the album, it is less dramatic than "The Empire Strikes Back", but more original than "Star Wars" and as colorful as "Return of the Jedi".

Williams has created a score that matches the power of his original trilogy without restating anything more than a few tantalizing, foreshadowing melodies most of us know so well. The new themes fall well into the leitmotif style of the "Star Wars" series; they give something unpredictable to listen for...

But the score deserves more than a one-paragraph review.

Nostalgia reigns supreme as 'Star Wars Main Title and The Arrival at Naboo' opens the album. The "Star Wars" theme receives a majestic performance from the LSO before segueing "Jedi"-style to a series of fanfares for the Naboo that would make Franz Waxman and Miklos Rozsa proud. The exhilarating 'Duel of the Fates' comes next, its somewhat Orff influenced choral bombast combating a persistent motif not too dissimilar to those of Philip Glass, punctuated by false endings. This is an arrangement done specifically for a music video (part of it does, however, appear in the film's musical narrative as part of a climatic lightsaber fight [duh!] and its themes are recurring elements of the score). The choir sings in Sanskrit the words "most dread, inside the head," taken from a Celtic poem translated by Robert Graves. Also a concert arrangement of one of the score's primary motifs, 'Anakin's Theme' is the soundtrack's gem, a work of sheer genius. The theme initially follows in the effective mold of other innocent Williams melodies, but it becomes chromatically unsure, ending in a deliciously devious take on Darth Vader's theme. For those who so identify the tune with the evil Galactic Empire, this may be almost too much of a darkly psychological tease. The musical premonition of things to come is nothing short of masterful. 'Jar Jar's Introduction and The Swim to Otoh Gunga' introduces

Jar Jar Binks' comedic theme (incorporating what appears to be a playful nod

to 'March of the Toys' from "Babes in Toyland"!), as well as a short, inspired tribute to Saint-Saens' 'The Aquarium' from The Carnival of the Animals and some light music to accompany the trip to the Gungan city. Those looking for the 'Mr. DNA' cue from "Jurassic Park" may finally have a close cousin of it in this track.

'The Sith Spacecraft and The Droid Battle' is the soundtrack's first wholly cinematic action cue; the brass writing provides plenty of trills and thrills. You must hear it to believe it! 'The Trip to the Naboo Temple and The Audience with Boss Nass' is basic traveling music, though it does have some succulent digressions. 'The Arrival at Tatooine and The Flag Parade' is not much at first (Jar Jar's theme again), but following a nebulously dramatic interlude the splendor in the track presents itself as an unmistakable homage to 'Parade of the Charioteers' from "Ben-Hur". Williams

deftly works his fanfares for all the epic worth he can muster - a spectacular, surefire showstopper! As for 'He Is the Chosen One,' this spaciously misterioso track (complete with Force theme) fleshes-out the maturity of Williams' approach. It has a sweet theme hidden within.

'Anakin Defeats Sebulba' starts with an eerie quality, gives a candid rendition of the Force theme, and barks an ace arrangement of the aforementioned "Ben-Hur" fanfare (with a trace of Jabba the Hutt's theme) before moving into action of pure "Star Wars" proportions, closing with a triumphal statement of Anakin's theme. A wordless choir, high serial tones, and low rumbles typify 'Passage Through the Planet Core, a track full of underwater mystery and awe. A gorgeous French horn melody, hinting at the

"Star Wars" theme, leads to more dangerous music representing unknown watery

depths. 'Watto's Deal and Kids at Play' perfectly captures the mischievousness of a disagreeable junk dealer as well as the loftiness of childhood. Two minutes in, it metamorphosizes into a heartbreaking symphonic meditation, a full statement of the Force theme conveying wonder before the childish games return. The splashiest track on the album, 'Panaka and the Queen's Protectors', gives us ersatz-Korngold (and the "Star Wars" theme). A great, if brief, declaration of the 'Duel of the Fates' motif, and the occasional slip into real "Indiana Jones" territory, propels the track alongside a frolicsome tune.

In 'Queen Amidala and The Naboo Palace' there is a sense of anguish and broad militarism, saved by the entrance of Anakin's theme and the grandiose Naboo fanfares. 'The Droid Invasion and The Appearance of Darth Maul' is a pulsing cue reminiscent of 'Belly of the Steel Beast' from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" until moments before Palpatine's theme from "Return of the Jedi" makes a chilling arrival. Williams uses two dramatic devices that ensure this is a highlight track; the first is an ethnic instrument that produces a very creepy moan, the second is the female chorus sounding more cryptic tones. 'Qui-Gon's Noble End' is another charging, percussive track. As it slows, the strings play a sustained cord as voices whisper a threatening chant; it then explodes into a tormented finale. 'The High

Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral' is yet another album highlight, featuring both Yoda's and Darth Vader's themes amid formal writing highly representative of the style Williams opted for in "Saving Private Ryan". The London Voices then sing a stately dirge (more Sanskrit) as the Force theme bids a princely farewell and harp glissandos fade into the distance.

The album rounds out with a controversial oddity. 'Augie's Municipal Band and End Credits' opens with spirited source music from a Gungan band. Gloria Estefan reportedly served as a reference for this salsa-flavored cue, seasoned with bizarre electronics remindful of Danny Elfman's earlier film work, adolescent fanfares, and an upbeat variation on Palpatine's theme performed by The New London's Children Choir. Whenever the kids interject laughter the piece goes from bizarre to just plain silly, but the return of the familiar end credits hubbub is joyfully nostalgic. An interesting coda for the fanfare leads to 'Duel of the Fates' and 'Anakin's Theme,' quoted verbatim from the concert arrangements.

Recording engineer Shawn Murphy deserves kudos for continuing the rich, faultless sound of "Star Wars" established by Eric Tomlinson so many years before. The remainder of the production, however... The packaging is generously generic (excepting a pretty picture disc), the maudlin liner notes by George Lucas & John Williams may induce sporadic giggling, and the fact that little over 50% of the score is on the album is like seeing half the Mona Lisa. You admire the elegance, you cheer it up & down, yet you know there is an equally brilliant use of canvas you cannot see. Thus the disc feels incomplete and frustrating. The hodgepodge of tracks, which includes the aforementioned inexplicable double inclusion of 'Duel of the Fates' and 'Anakin's Theme,' undermines the impact further. This music deserves more than this horrendous Shake & Bake treatment. Presumably it is for a 'preferred listening experience,' but 'preferred listening experience' is a euphemism for 'degraded for the sake of the lowest common denominator.' Why not release the whole score, perhaps with a note by Williams listing his own recommended programming order, giving the listener the chance to judge for himself what he wants to listen to? The Force ought to be with the Jedi who have the credits, not the greedy Trade Federation.

It is fantastic music that counts, however. The musicianship of Williams as composer and conductor shines brightly, and the London Symphony Orchestra and choirs follow. For good music and performance, you cannot go wrong with this album.


Jeffrey Wheeler

Read Jeffrey Wheeler's report on the film

Ian Lace briefly adds:-

Jeffrey Wheeler sums it up nicely when he describes this score as "less dramatic than "The Empire Strikes Back", but more original than "Star Wars" and as colorful as "Return of the Jedi".

I will act as devil's advocate for a moment and utter, what I believe, will be many people's initial reaction. Unlike the music for the original Star Wars trilogy, this new score does not have a big theme that touches the heart and the spirit. Instead, this is music that has a more subtle, understated appeal and its riches are revealed with repeated hearings.

The big stand-out cue is 'Duel of the Fates' which, though exciting enough, appeals more to the intellect than to the heart. As Jeffrey says it is somewhat Orff influenced with a nod towards Philip Glass but I also thought I detected the influence of the Nordic composers (Sibelius's Night Ride and Sunrise for instance); and one is also reminded of the headlong excitement of Borodin's Polovtsian Dances. Like Jeffrey, I was also moved by the beautiful 'Anakin's Theme', understated and compassionate. This is glorious contrapuntal string writing in the English tradition. 'He is the Chosen One' struck me as being quite Elgarian; it has that composer's brand of mysticism and 'nobilmente' fervour. I was impressed, too, with Williams's richly inventive impressionistic music for the 'Passage Through the Planet Core' cue and the affecting final cue before the end credits, 'The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral'.

Elsewhere we have tremendously thrilling chase and combat music and Williams, as ever, excels in his character sketches portraying the personality and gaits of the exotic creatures of Lukas's fertile imagination

What a pity we have to endure the crass Augie's Great Municipal Band - almost as tacky as the booklet notes.


Ian Lace


Jeffrey Wheeler

Ian Lace

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