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The Fabelmans

Everything about the collaboration between Steven Spielberg and John Williams is extraordinary, really, including the numbers – fifty years (!) after their first film together comes their 29th (!) and their 31st collaboration overall. This time Spielberg finally makes the film he’s been musing for decades, about himself (though I’m sure many of his previous ones have been, if not quite so literally) – and it’s been widely-reported that it will be the last time the pair work together, though I’m not sure Williams actually said it quite as definitively as has been taken.

While I’m sure many would have loved their final project together to be more along the lines of an E.T. or a Jurassic Park, realistically that was never particularly likely (when Spielberg did most recently make a popcorn movie, Alan Silvestri scored it). Instead what we have is on the surface one of the more slight scores of their partnership, but which comes so obviously from the composer’s heart, it does feel like a fitting finale, should that prove to be the case.

There are two primary themes on show – by far the most satisfying is presented immediately in the title track. Heard most frequently on piano, played tenderly by Joanne Pearce Martin, it’s a warm, whimsical delight. With much of the music in the film being tracked-in classical pieces and songs, Williams is left to essentially score the relationships – this theme concentrates on the warmer ones, and – as he has done so very many times in the past – the composer so masterfully captures the spirit of the film in a theme that hasn’t left my head since I first heard it. That magical ability to conjure up melodies that last is such a rare gift. Its appearance in the guitar-and-piano duet of “Mother and Son” is a real delight.

The second theme is very different – subtler, darker, much more emotionally strained – and it makes its own impression, in tracks like “Mitzi’s Dance” and “Reflections”. There’s a sadness to the piece, a constant sense that something is missing. This one doesn’t leap out and stick in the memory – that’s not its job – rather, it offers a contrast to the other theme, the two going together to complete a picture.

It’s a short album, featuring barely twenty minutes of Williams music, but that’s all you need. The typically strong finale, “The Journey Begins…”, is a kind of reflective dance, with the briefest scherzo that inevitably recalls the music for the film that changed both of these men’s lives, and a magical reprise of the main theme to close it out. If this is really it, then The Fabelmans is perhaps a bit of a bookend to what has been an extraordinary body of work, but don’t dismiss it on the grounds of its brevity or its unspectacular nature – this is a mature piece, exquisite in its way and along with the constant sense of sheer class, it’s full of charm.

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  1. Bart Looman (Reply) on Friday 9 December, 2022 at 15:00

    Beautiful music! A typical John Williams score in the sense that he is once again inspired by the work of a classical composer, in this case Erik Satie. The piece “Reverie” is very reminiscent of the Gymnopédies.