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Composed by
JOHN WILLIAMS

Rating
****

Album running time
60:50

Tracks
1: Call of the Champions (5:00)

American Journey
2: Immigration and Building (5:39)
3: The Country at War (3:22)
4: Popular Entertainment (2:30)
5: Arts and Sports (2:37)
6: Civil Rights and the Women's Movement (3:27)
7: Flight and Technology (7:10)

8: Song for World Peace (4:42)
9: Jubilee 350 (3:44)
10: The Mission Theme (3:30)
11: For New York (3:03)
12: Sound the Bells! (2:50)
13: Hymn to New England (3:11)
14: Celebrate Discovery (3:49)
15: Summon the Heroes (6:16)

Performed by
UTAH SYMPHONY
and
RECORDING ARTS ORCHESTRA OF LOS ANGELES
and
THE BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA
and
THE MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR
conducted by
JOHN WILLIAMS

Engineered by
SIMON RHODES
SHAWN MURPHY
Edited by
PETER MYLES
Produced by
JOHN WILLIAMS
KEN WANNBERG

Released by
SONY CLASSICAL
Serial number
SK 89364

Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Sony Music Entertainment Inc; review copyright (c) 2002 James Southall


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AMERICAN JOURNEY

Wonderful, rousing collection
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL

John Williams is not only the most sought-after composer of film music in the world, he is also the man most often called when ceremonial music is needed for an American event. While some of this ceremonial music has been released in the past, never has it been made available together on a dedicated album. The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City offered Williams the opportunity of writing his fifth Olympic piece, and Sony Classical the chance to release a collection of Williams's ceremonial music bound to sell well not only in the patriotic fervour that always greets the Olympics but also because Williams remains so popular with the public.

"Call of the Champions" is this album's raison d'Ítre, and it's a good piece. For the first time, Williams combines a full choir with the forces of a symphony orchestra for a ceremonial piece and - while he hardly breaks new ground in the process - it's an uplifting, enjoyable piece of music. Not as instantly striking as his previous Olympic music, it benefits from repeated listening, when it really does shine.

Following this is the 25-minute score he wrote as part of the US millennium celebrations. I'm sure it was called "The Unfinished Journey" at the time, but here it has been conveniently retitled "American Journey". But regardless of any titular issues at stake, it's fantastic music. At times reminiscent of some of his film music, it's still wonderfully bracing and vividly descriptive music. My favourite movement is "Civil Rights and the Women's Movement" (catchy title), when Williams writes a prominent piano part which is particularly enjoyable.

The album is rounded out by assorted other Williams fanfares and ceremonial pieces, some previously-released and some not. The gorgeous "Song for World Peace" and "Hymn to New England" and the rousing "Celebrate Discovery" are highlights. But the problem is that the pieces are largely written in a very similar way and generally run into each other as a result, lacking distinction. While any of them is fine taken in isolation, played one after the other they tend to grate a little after a while.

The album is rounded out by a bonus track, and what a track it is - "Summon the Heroes", written for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, manages to offer in six minutes the kind of development and depth that simply isn't possible in the shorter tracks that have come before. For my money it's Williams's best concert piece, and maybe his best piece period. (This is the same recording of the piece that was featured on the superior 1996 Olympic album of the same name, which benefited from music by other composers to offer a little variety, and in truth the music Williams wrote for the 1984 and 1988 Olympics which also featured was a little more enjoyable than most of the fare here.)

For Williams fans, this will be another essential purchase. Others though may rue the missed opportunity of including Olympic music by other composers - Michael Kamen has now written three pieces for Olympics, none of which is available. Pity.

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