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John Williams & Steven Spielberg: The Ultimate Collection
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3 CD / DVD box set
Over the 90-year history of sound film, there have been a handful of instances where a director and a composer have formed a longtime partnership that resulted in a series of classical scores, creating music that stands the test of time. None, however, have been as long or as fruitful as the 43-year collaboration of Steven Spielberg and John Williams. None have encompassed such a wide range of subject matter or, more significantly, have had such an enormous impact on worldwide popular culture. From the ominous shark signature of Jaws to the five-note alien greeting of Close Encounters of the Third Kind; from the heroic march of Raiders of the Lost Ark to the moving themes for Schindler's List the music Williams has written for more than two dozen Spielberg projects has not only served them brilliantly but entered the wider public consciousness.
Twenty-five years ago, Sony Classical began charting the Spielberg-Williams collaboration, recording two discs of their greatest hits. For this new release, John Williams & Steven Spielberg: The Ultimate Collection, these two CDs, The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration and Williams on Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores, are included along with newly arranged and recorded material from the past two decades of their additional movie scores, The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration Part III, and a newly filmed bonus DVD documentary film, Steven Spielberg & John Williams: The Adventure Continues.
With a record fifty Academy Award® nominations (more than any other composer) Williams has demonstrated, again and again, his ability to connect with audiences, both in the movie theater and in the concert hall. Seventeen of those nominations, and three of Williams' five Oscar® wins (Jaws, E.T. and Schindler s List) have been for Spielberg films. The sheer variety of music, the depth of compositional skill on display, the powerful emotions that it evokes, makes John Williams & Steven Spielberg: The Ultimate Collection an extraordinary accomplishment. This is the work of one of America's greatest composers, inspired by the work of one of America s greatest filmmakers.
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Disc 3 is a new recording (2017) of music Williams had not previously recorded, other than on the original soundtracks. Some of it is newly arranged. He uses an L.A. studio orchestra, but they are recorded in UCLA's Royce Hall. The booklet states John Williams finds the acoustics of this hall some of the finest in the world. Based upon this present recording, I agree. The SONY recording is simply gorgeous - airy, spacious and dramatic within a most naturally portrayed big, reverberant hall. The bass drum strokes are quite stunning as well - naturally shuttering throughout the enormous acoustic, but never overdone. This is, quite simply, one of the best orchestral recordings on CD I've heard in a long while. Indeed it is nearly as good as the very best SACDs.
Highlights of this new disc, for me at least, are the selections from BFG, Lincoln, War Horse and The Unfinished Journey (which I had not heard before). It is good to have the John Williams signature stamp on these, freed from their original soundtracks, especially as this studio orchestra plays brilliantly. "Dartmoor" (from War Horse), in particular, as played by this magnificent orchestra, is surely one of the most heart-felt, moving, rapturously gorgeous musical creations in all of John Williams's recorded output.
There is one clunker in the group, however. "Dry Your Tears Afrika" (from Amistad) sounds so much like a group of angelic choirboys, later joined by the local (adult) church choir, that I laughed out loud at how un-idiomatic it sounds here. Just pull out the original soundtrack to hear what it should sound like. But, not to be too hard on the Fullerton University Singers, they are gorgeous in their ooh-ing and aw-ing, when required in subsequent tracks, namely "Hymn to the Fallen" (from Saving Private Ryan), which is overwhelmingly moving.
The DVD is not what I was expecting. Rather than a true documentary film (as it is described on the back cover - suggesting it chronicles the 43-year relationship between Williams and Spielberg), it is actually a "making-of" featurette of the recording sessions for the new CD. It lasts just 22 minutes. Interspersed among the short clips from the orchestral recording sessions are interviews with Mr. Williams and Steven Spielberg. I personally found seeing and hearing the orchestra in action extremely fascinating, along with watching Mr. Williams conducting with such passion. I wish there was much more of this included. While the interviews are entertaining, they amount to little more than the two men expressing mutual admiration.
In sum, it is regrettable that SONY chose to include the two reissued/duplicated CDs for this 4-disc box, rather than offering the new CD and the DVD as a two-fer. All John Williams lovers who will be attracted to this set will certainly already own the first 2 discs contained here. But, be that as it may, this set is absolutely worth the price of admission for the new CD recording. John Williams may be 85 (when he conducted this collection), but he still draws enormous amounts of heartfelt passion, endlessly singing lines and dramatic power from this orchestra. Not for one instant does this sound like an old man on the podium. And taken as a whole, these 3 audio discs make an absolutely splendid collection - the perfect gift for someone who doesn't typically buy all of John Williams's CDs. The "making-of" DVD is icing on the cake.
music. I enjoy listening to this album.