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Excellent score for religious drama fills the last remaining post-Star Wars gap in the Williams discography
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1982 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
John Williams has developed a reputation for many things, one of which is his uncanny ability to find himself attached to projects that go on to become unbelievably successful (the proportion of the top twenty box office hits of all time which are scored by Williams is mindblowing). Even when he doesn't strike box office dynamite, he tends to pick films which are critically-applauded, or have some other element of prestige. But back in in 1982 - just after ET and before Return of the Jedi - came Monsignor, which often finds its way into lists of the worst films of all time. It was Christopher Reeve's attempt to show he could do something other than play Superman, and not a very successful attempt at that. He plays a priest who (shock!) falls in love with a woman. I could make a tasteless joke here that the biggest shock is that he loves women rather than... nah, thought better of it.
Anyway, the film did get nominated for an award - and it was a Razzie Award for Worst Original Score. Almost without fail, that is a sign of a wonderful film score, and this is no exception. The main theme is a glorious trumpet piece, with just the right sense of the Vatican about it with the slight air of mystery and the classical beauty; not particularly liturgical in any way, but it still has a certain "Catholic sound". The other main theme comes from the composer's "Esplanada Overture", which he was writing for the Boston Pops at the time; "Reunion in Italy" presents the first of the material from it, an enjoyable scherzo full of unmistakable Williams flourishes, performed in grand style by the London Symphony Orchestra; the fullest version comes in "The Meeting in Sicily".
The bulk of the score is built from those two themes; there's easily enough variety from Williams to keep things moving along dynamically, and the album's only 38 minutes long so it certainly doesn't feel like it's stretching the material too thin. Best of all, there's a couple of wonderful individual set-piece which don't draw from the two main themes - most notable is the spectacular "Gloria", which sees a full choir joining the orchestra for a striking setting of the traditional Latin mass to some glorious Williams composition - I don't think Williams had written much film music for choir by that time, and this stunning piece makes one wish he'd had the chance a little more often; and then there's the more tender, touching "Audience with the Holy Father", a beautifully-presented musical representation of purity.
Since launching himself to the very top of the film music A-list with Star Wars in 1977, Williams has written 58 film scores; with this release from Intrada, incredibly, every single one of them has now been officially released on CD. There are still one or two gems left unreleased from before that, and a few scores ripe for expanded editions, but this will be a huge gap filled in a great many Williams collections around the world, because Monsignor is probably the most notable of the scores which hadn't yet been released. Intrada's release has good sound, interesting new notes and, in repeating the LP presentation of the music, offers it in the most perfect presentation it could get. An essential purchase for Williams fans.