John Williams At The Movies
John WILLIAMS (b. 1932)
Olympic Fanfare and Theme
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
– excerpts (1977) [7:55]
With Malice Toward None [4:19]
Main Title [5:47]
The Empire Strikes Back
Imperial March [3:21]
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Scherzo for X-Wings [2:23]; The Jedi Steps and Finale [9:44]
ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
Adventures on Earth [10:42]
The Star-Spangled Banner
Christopher Martin (trumpet)
Dallas Winds/Jerry Junkin
rec. 2016, Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas
Reviewed as a 24/176.4 download from Reference Recordings
Pdf booklet included
REFERENCE RECORDINGS RR-142 SACD
Scrolling through John Williams’s extensive worklist triggers an avalanche
of movie memories; from William Wyler’s 1966 comedy How to Steal a Million (music credited to one Johnny Williams)
through to iconic themes for George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy,
Richard Donner’s Superman and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan. The screed of
nominations and actual awards surely confirms the composer’s reputation as
one of the greats, joining the likes of Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang
Korngold, Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa, Nino Rota and Jerry
From Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys and Baftas to Grammys, where Reference
Recordings’ leading man, ‘Prof’ Keith O. Johnson, has garnered one award
and notched up another eight nominations. I’ve reviewed two of his more
(a Recording of the Month and Year) and
Wine Dark Sea.
The latter showcased the multi-talented University of Texas Wind Ensemble
led by Jerry Junkin, a partnership I first encountered in
Shadow of Sirius.
As for the Dallas Winds, formerly the Dallas Wind Symphony, this is their
18th recording for Reference.
What better way to get start than with the fanfare and theme Williams wrote
for the opening ceremony at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. There’s a
broad, arresting sense of spectacle, so familiar from his epic movie
scores, plus a dash of Copland. As with all composers of quality, Williams
knows and draws on the music of his antecedents, yet still manages to find
his own, unmistakable ‘voice’. The band respond with startling clarity and
noble mien, and the wide, deep soundstage adds to the sense of occasion.
The recording, like the performance, is focused on the music, and that’s
precisely what I’ve come to expect from this source.
Time to ‘fess up, not once but twice. First, I’ve not heard the Dallas
Winds before, but even at this early stage it’s clear they are a fine
ensemble, disciplined and immensely refined. And second, I’ve never seen The Cowboys, even though I was mad about Westerns in my youth. The
overture is Bonanza meets William Tell, with slow pans that
bring to mind the high, wide vistas so emblematic of the genre. Of course,
collections such as this are of keen interest to movie fans in general, but
they are also useful to music lovers in particular. Even more so when the
scores are played – and recorded – as professionally as they are here.
In this age of Marvel superheroes and impossibly arch villains, it’s good
to have DC’s simple, clean-cut Superman reprised in this wonderfully
affirmative march. Junkin draws crisp, buoyant playing from his band, the
lovely instrumental blend revealed by the uncluttered, ‘hear through’
nature of this recording. And if we believed a man could fly, we had no
difficulty suspending disbelief in Close Encounters. Its weird glissandi and discreet but thrilling organ pedal are superbly
caught, as are the bass drum and cymbals. That said, it’s the open-hearted
nature of the writing that ambushes one’s emotions every time. This is what
movie magic is all about, and the hushed close – the deep spell as yet
unbroken – is no exception.
Williams has long been Spielberg’s composer of choice – like Hitchcock and
Herrmann, they are a consistently synergic fit – so it’s no surprise
scored the 2012 biopic, Lincoln. Yes, there’s something of Copland
here as well, the plainer passages hinting at the simple soul behind the
stirring oratory. It’s all so adroitly done, the New York Phil’s principal
trumpet, Christopher Martin, supremely assured in his solos. As for the
opening of Star Wars, Junkin really underlines the links to Gustav
Holst – Mars, anyone? – and Richard Wagner.
Now this is rep where performers and engineers might be tempted to overplay
their hand; thankfully, good taste and good judgment are the watchwords
here, so the music retains all its vaunting splendour without sounding
overblown or overlong.
Once more, natural balances and a preponderance of ear-pricking detail – so
much a part of Wine Dark Sea – serve the music admirably. There’s
plenty of thrust and weight when it’s needed, as in the strut and swagger
of the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back. With the volume
turned up, the percussion emerges with all the frisson one could
wish for. It helps that Junkin is so proportionate in everything he does
Moving on, the two excerpts from The Force Awakens seem unusually
symphonic, with well-defined content and a clear sense of purpose. Also,
there’s some very nimble, nicely articulated playing. As for the dark-hued
theme to Oliver Stone’s JFK, it shows Williams at his brooding and
expansive best. The side drum has terrific presence here, as have those
mighty cymbal clashes at the start of Adventures on Earth, from ET. Fresh and freewheeling, this is such disarming music, its wistful moments
so memorable. Less so, perhaps, is Spielberg’s 1941, although its
spirited march is a notable success. Ditto Williams’s take on The Star-Spangled Banner, its joyful plosions a fitting finale.
Quietly sensational; a must for movie fans and audiophiles alike.