I was at the Dublin concert last night. A truly fantastic evening, especially enjoyable as my first all-Williams program. The orchestra were on top form (apart from a few occasional fluffed notes in the brass) and Michael Seal conducted intelligently and with great composure. It was clear that he knew the music extremely well and knew how to get exactly what he wanted. The program was a good selection and well constructed.
Started with the Superman March. Fantastic, energetic performance from the orchestra, and a great opener.
We then had the Happy Birthday Variations. This was a real treat to hear live. Such a fantastic virtuoso showpiece for orchestra. They did a great job of it, didn't play a wrong note and gave a really expressive nuanced performance. And yes there was an audience sing-a-long for the climax!
This was followed by the excellent suite from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I was delighted this was included as opposed to the usual Hedwig's Theme/Harry's Wondrous World. The absence of a choir meant they just played 4 movements, starting with Witches, Wands and Wizards. Quidditch was wonderful, the flute solo was brilliantly done, I thought the snowball fight was a bit on the slow side but still good. Followed by Aunt Marge's Waltz, and the beautiful Bridge to the Past (I really enjoyed this, has it ever been properly recorded? If not stand by as this concert will probably be broadcast on national radio soon
) and finishing up with the Knight Bus, which was truly fantastic to hear live.
After all that excitement, they slowed things down a bit with the theme from Schindler's List. This was okay, not the best solo performance I've ever heard but nice.
Then we had Jaws - Main Title, Out to Sea, and the Shark Cage Fugue. Brilliant. It's rare to hear such perfectly constructed counterpoint in a film score.
Following the most famous 2-note motif was the most famous 5-note motif with Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This was another stand-out performance of the evening of what is probably my all-time favourite Williams score, superbly performed and conducted. I would however have loved to hear the longer version with "When you Wish Upon a Star" interpolated.
After the interval we were welcomed back with the Raiders March. The orchestra could probably play this one blindfolded at this stage, and it was a great energetic performance.
This was followed by the Olympic Fanfare and Theme. It omitted the opening "Bugler's Dream" fanfare and started rather suddenly just before the lyrical theme in the horns and strings, which I thought was strange. But good to hear it nonetheless.
Next up was the Homecoming from War Horse. This was slightly disappointing. It obviously wasn't the concert version that Williams conducted earlier this year with the extended flute solo. It sounded like an unofficial transcription (notwithstanding a pretty good transcription) of the OST track. It was generally well performed but with a few oddities such as incorrect note values in the flute solo ( a minor quibble) and also the first violins didn't come in straight on that high D with the Dartmoor theme but gave a long upbeat of a low A which sounded really odd and wrong. Also the horns were too "brassy" in parts where they should have been more mellow. So a slightly disappointing interpretation but still enjoyable for the most part. It's still beautiful music. I'll look forward to hearing the official published version some time in the future.
This was followed by the heart-breaking "A Prayer for Peace" from Munich. Wonderful string performance with a rich full sound.
Next up was J.F.K. the 5 minute or so Main Theme/Prologue. A slightly less played piece, and nice to hear. Beautifully performed trumpet solo.
This was followed by Jurassic Park.
Then to finish we had E.T. - Adventure on Earth. Was pleased they decided to play this as opposed to the flying theme. But it always disappoints me when we get to the final part where the bikes take flight and that glorious statement of the flying theme is cut out. It reminds me of the Lord of the Rings symphony where the heroic Fellowship theme in Khazad-dum is replaced by a low drone in the strings. There it sort of makes sense as we've just heard the Fellowship theme moments before. But I don't get it in Adventure on Earth. That's a piece that has to be played note-for-note from beginning to end. Oh well. The finale was glorious, and a perfect end to the program.
But there was still something missing, something that it is impossible to omit from a John Williams concert. Seal came back on stage to thunderous applause, picked up the microphone and said "I have one thing to say. "A long time ago . . . oh, you know the rest!", turned around and gave the downbeat. After a whole evening of exhausting music those trumpets still blasted out that high C for all they were worth amidst the cheers of the crowd. Star Wars was the icing on the cake to a wonderful evening. When that last chord struck the sold-out concert hall was on their feet roaring their appreciation.
A great performance by this wonderful orchestra who are a real national treasure. There's something special about how they play film music. Looking forward to many more wonderful shows with them. My only complaint was that 2 and a half hours wasn't enough for the multitude of great music by the Maestro.