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Lights, Camera… Music!
  • Composed by John Williams
  • BSO Classics / 2017 / 76m

An offshoot of the Boston Symphony Orchestra founded in 1885, the Boston Pops Orchestra (as its name suggests) was formed to perform lighter, more popular music than its big brother.  When it was looking for a new Principle Conductor following Arthur Fiedler’s retirement in 1979, it found one in the form of John Williams, recently established at the time as the world’s most popular film composer.  He remained in the post until 1993, succeeded by Keith Lockhart, who has held the position ever since.  This new album, released on the BSO’s own label, is Lockhart’s tribute to Williams, a collection of recordings of the composer’s film music spanning the 1960s to the 2010s and including several concert arrangements not previously heard on album.

It kicks off with a couple of real concert rarities, Heidi and Goodbye Mr Chips.  The former is a 1968 tv movie directed by Delbert Mann and was one of the first scores written after “Johnny” became “John” – it’s one of his strongest early scores and the exuberant main theme, full of childhood innocence, is delightful.  Goodbye Mr Chips came a year later and saw Williams working with Leslie Bricusse, whose songs are the dominant musical force in the film; much of the Overture heard here is Williams’s orchestral arrangements of music by Bricusse, and it’s delightful.

Williams, Spielberg and Lockhart

Before Steven Spielberg came along, the composer’s most famous collaboration with a filmmaker was probably that he had with Irwin Allen, king of the disaster movie, and that is represented here with a new arrangement of the main title from The Towering Inferno.  It’s such a brilliant theme – full of energy, ablaze (sorry) with excitement, very much a product of its time (1974) and all the better for it.  The 1976 war film Midway is represented by the brilliant “Men of the Yorktown March” rather than the more famous main theme, which has been recorded many times.  I actually prefer this theme – the arrangement here is more grandiose and extended than the “concert version” of the theme on the original album – which gives you even more time to wallow in its stirring grandeur.  For my money, it’s the best John Williams theme that’s not that well-known outside the composer’s bigger fans.

John Badham’s take on Dracula in 1979 brought a rare horror score from the composer.  The grand “Night Journeys” includes the beautiful, swirling romantic main theme Williams wrote for the score, and some dramatic writing that clearly presaged some key passages in The Empire Strikes Back, which would follow a year later.  It’s a gem of a score and Lockhart does it full justice.  You might not expect to find music from E.T. on a disc purportedly dominated by John Williams rarities, but in fact this is the first recording of “Stargazers”, which Williams wrote quite recently as an extended take on the original album’s “E.T. and Me”.  Clearly nowhere near as famous as the score’s two main themes, it is nevertheless an absolute beauty, so delicate and full of whimsical charm.

The sensational “Devil’s Dance” from The Witches of Eastwick is a raucous, big, comically macabre piece that’s brought the house down ever time I’ve seen it done in concert – and it’s one I never tire of hearing.  Williams’s gift for writing a catchy tune has never been in doubt – as soon as this one enters your consciousness, it stays there forever, as his best tunes all do.  And this is one of his very best.  The composer himself is evidently very fond of his theme from Sabrina, Sydney Pollack’s 1995 remake of the Billy Wilder classic, because it’s been recorded numerous times and in numerous guises; and it is very good, jazzy and romantic, dashingly breezy.

I don’t suppose Sleepers is a score Williams has performed in concert many times, but I was there once when he did it as an encore (it wasn’t received quite as enthusiastically as the other one, “The Raiders March”).  The “Finale” is a grand, romantic piece that’s not particularly representative of the darkly dramatic score as a whole, but certainly makes for a rousing concert piece.  The Patriot is much more obviously well-suited to the Pops audience and its main theme – surprisingly quite radically altered from its album version, particularly in the second half – is quite wonderful.  Then comes the comic vignette “Viktor’s Tale” from The Terminal, also recorded by Williams for the third volume of his Spielberg collection earlier this year – it’s so catchy, so full of charm.

The album ends with a lengthy suite from a score that would fail to fit in even the widest definition of a “rarity”, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  So full of energy and excitement, it’s the most brilliant film music I’ve heard in the last few years and this suite is a very good representation: the thrilling “March of the Resistance”, stunning and timeless “Rey’s Theme”, energetic “Scherzo for X-Wings”, soaring and inspirational “The Jedi Steps” and the grandstanding end title.  Most notable for most will be “The Jedi Steps” because this is the first recording of Williams’s extended concert arrangement of it.  It’s a dazzling piece and I hope the next film gives the composer the opportunity to explore it further.

These are live recordings but there’s no significant audience noise (and no applause).  Lockhart is very familiar with Williams’s music and does a good job with it – except for a section of The Patriot that could do with a bit more oomph, there are no material performance issues.  Most importantly, the music is great – of course it is – and this is a really well-executed album, doing it’s job of bringing attention to some less well-known but still brilliant music from throughout the master film composer’s career.

**** 1/2
Terrific collection of music by a master | |

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  1. TDidz927 (Reply) on Monday 26 June, 2017 at 17:43

    Thanks for the write up, I didn’t even know this was released. Great album!