• A John Williams Celebration

    One of the big ticket items for the 2014/2015 concert season was to be had in Los Angeles.  The hottest conductor in classical music, Gustavo Dudamel, let a gala opening night concert in the Walt Disney Concert Hall featuring the music of John Williams.  The composer has had a long history with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the program featured a great variety of his work.  This Blu-Ray, produced by Bernhard Fleischer, is a document of that September 30, 2014 concert.


    The program is most notable for including a “premiere” recording now of Soundings which was written for the opening of the concert hall in 2003 and as yet not recorded on CD.  This 15-minute work is one of the primary highlights and is performed after a rousing Olympic Fanfare and Theme featuring the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets.


    At the center of the program, violinist Itzhak Perlman arrives to perform what has become a common concert “suite” of sorts, Three pieces from “Schindler’s List”.  The performance is simply stunning with Perlman seeming to effortlessly move through these emotionally intense pieces.  The audience silence is in itself a monument to the power of this music.  As a sort of “encore” Perlman also revisits some music arranged for the film version of Fiddler on the Roof—essentially the opening credits cadenza music.  Another concertized suite follows featuring alto saxophonist Dan Higgins performance of Escapades.  This is a selection of three cues from Catch Me if You Can.  Solo work by vibraphonist Glenn Paulson and bassist Michael Valerio make this a compelling performance.  The concert then “ends” with the “Throne Room and Finale” from Star Wars—because this has to be on the program, and of course recalls one of the first orchestral re-recordings of the work by this orchestra under Zubin Mehta.  This is a fabulous performance all around.  A host of “encores” are then pulled out.  First up is “Dry Your Tears, Africa” (Amistad) which features the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.  This is somewhat successful.  Part of the problem may lie with the spatial entrances of the choir.  Music from Jaws and the “Imperial March” bring up the end.  Williams comes on the podium for the latter and wraps up the concert with another great experience.  For whatever reason, the music from The Adventures of Tin-Tin is not included.


    As a bonus, the release includes a 13+ minute interview with Dudamel and Williams.  Perlman also has a brief interview.

  • New Film Compilation from RPO

     Hollywood Blockbusters

    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Nick Ingman, Nic Raine
    RPO SP 034
    Disc One: Total Time:  60:56
    Disc Two: Total Time:  70:51
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    The Royal Philharmonic feature annual concerts celebrating film music and some of their Here Come the Classics series have included some film music along the way.  Many of their concert recordings are available solely through their website which makes them a bit harder to come by outside the UK.  The present release features selections from some of these earlier compilations recorded with Nick Ingman back in 2002, and with Nic Raine in 2009 and 2010.  Many of Raine’s own arrangements are featured here and parallel selections available on the Silva label which has been associated with over the past 20 years.

    The music is not really presented with any sort of program in mind, not even chronology.  One might be hard pressed to think of something like Chocolat as a “blockbuster” and a few other films sort of seem odd in that respect as well, but regardless, there is an interesting collection of film music all the same featuring mostly music from more recent films, though it runs back to some early Mancini (1958’s Peter Gunn theme) to Horner’s Avatar (2009).

    Disc One opens with Schifrin’s Mission Impossible TV theme in a more extended version, which seems a bit odd (disc two also opens with a TV theme).  But then we are off through a host of familiar melodies from Avatar, Gladiator, Forrest Gump, Out of Africa, The Pink Panther, The Thomas Crown Affair, Titanic, and License to Kill.  Some of the nice surprises in the programming are suites from Chocolate and Ratatouille.  Equally interesting is music from Desplat’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zimmer’s The Da Vinci Code (oddly the least interesting piece here), and Horner’s A Beautiful Mind.

    An interesting mix of popular melodies (like Lai’s Love Story theme, Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”) are dispersed among more serious fare like the beautiful “Elegy for Dunkirk” (Atonement) and the theme from Schindler’s List.  A bit of music from the first Lord of the Ring’s films allows for some fantasy music that returns at the end with two familiar selections from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Interesting items also include a suite from Warbeck’s Shakespeare in Love and interesting music from Zimmer’s King Arthur.  Action music comes from the main theme for Elfman’s Batman and Arnold’s Quantum of Solace (though this is a more lyrical “A Night at the Opera”).  Morricone’s beautiful theme from Cinema Paradiso is also paired here with Leonard Rosenman’s arrangement of a Handel “Sarabande” as used in Barry Lyndon (1975).

    Overall, then this is a rather unusual mix of mostly contemporary film music.  There is plenty of familiar territory here for new or casual listeners, but also some good choices of less familiar composers and films.  They may not quite be “blockbusters” in the way we might think, but the music making is engaging enough to make it a disc that might make a great gift to a new film music enthusiast.  The second disc actually feels like it features the stronger program.  Something also to note is that there seem to be three distinct musical “approaches” here that come across in these studio recordings.  Some of the pop-like themes have a more easy listening feel to them while the jazz selections tend to be a bit hotter in the audio picture.  The more larger-scale orchestral arrangements fall closer to traditional film music recordings.  All of these feel multi-miked which takes away some ambience one might hear in a hall.  However, the performances are excellent throughout.  The booklet itself is pretty barebones with no real information about any of the films or pieces used here.