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Some Overlooked Williams Gems


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So many of Williams' smaller scale scores barely get a whisper here, it’s almost frightening.

Lately, I’ve been listening to (and really enjoying) soundtracks like Empire of the Sun and appreciating their overpowering emotional beauty. EOTS is truly a Williams score to be reckoned with, I cannot overstate how much of an underrated achievement this is. Sleepers has also been getting a few spins in my CD player lately, especially Track 13 “Reunion and Finale”, which is a piece that has everything I’d expect from a bittersweet ending. Finally, the “Prologue” from JFK (from the 2-CD Greatest Hits, I don’t have the album) to me is a solid and moving track, Williams truly put his heart and soul into this one.

I’d say the Revenge of the Sith soundtrack with all of its less-Star-Warsy moments has prompted me to look deeper into the composer’s repertoire and listen to some of the lesser known stuff and get a feel for material that’s more subdued, dark and quietly romantic. It’s a shame because in reviews, I usually see these kinds of scores from the composer get lower ratings because they might not be part of a franchise or they may not have an obvious humable theme even if the film didn’t call for it. Whatever the case, they're still in that familiar Williams style we’ve all come to know and love.

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In 1988, Empire of the Sun won Best Score from British Academy Awards. It's one of the few soundtracks I really admire from start to finish.

I don't enjoy EotS completely, but their are a few tracks that are beyond classic.

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You need Seven Years in Tibet. Amistad is very interesting, although unlike Tibet, this doesn't apply to all tracks. Always is quite pleasant too, but not for the least patient.

Yes to Tibet and Amistad. And for my money, no on Always, not for a while. I'm pretty well heard as far as Williams music comes, and I've still not connected with this one.

I think Tibet gets a bit repetetive, I'm rarely in a mood to hear the whole thing. I love Amistad. It's true that it does have some less than amazing tracks, but it's got about 7-8 tracks of some pretty great music. And it's theme is one of the best ever, methinks.

If you really to be taken to a fully other world musical soundscape, you should get Images. That is an overlooked masterpiece of avant garde writing.

Overlooked in that it's still unreleased, but most of those who've heard it (that I've encountered) are vocal supporters of the score. An amazing score.

And about JFK- I too was grabbed by the prologue when I heard it on the 2 CD set (The set that turned me into a JW fan, and soundtrack fan in general), but that's just the tip of the ice burg. The OST of JFK works more as a concept CD than a score. It's 6-7 different pieces, that encapsulate so many of the emotions that surround the assassination. It's quite a masterpiece. I pick it up every couple of months, and am so astounded by the power of each of these pieces. And every time I think I want to listen to the CD for 'The Conspirators', I end up being obssessed with 'Arlington', or 'The Motorcade', or 'The Death of David Ferry'. A one of a kind score.

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Yes, Empire of the Sun, Sleepers, Amistad, Always and Saving Private Ryan are the best scores Williams has ever written.

Then why has a layer of dust nicely settled on all of these?

Williams performs what people want to hear. You mean the "Star Wars" main theme is his finest composition?

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Williams performs what people want to hear. You mean the "Star Wars" main theme is his finest composition?

are you saying that he composed Star Wars because that is what people wanted to hear, because if you are thats absurd.

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There's a huge interest in his music for gigantically popular films, so most of his equally great music gets unequal attention to Star Wars/Harry Potter.

But for years on these forums, he was doing nothing very high profile, but everyone here was very interested to hear the next thing and listen to it. People were discussing Nixon and Seven Years in Tibet with much interest.

Then came Harry Potter and Star Wars I.

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Those are as good as his film scores. Specially:

-Soundings

-For Seiji!

-Violin Concerto

-Trumpet Concerto

-Clarinet Concerto

-Bassoon Concerto

-Tuba Concerto

and my least favorite (among the concerti) would be the Flute Concerto (well, i'd better say "Concerto for flute and orchestra"), but I'm learning to like it. It sounds quite japanese: the first hints for the future "Memoirs of a Geisha"?

Haven't heard the horn concerto yet. :P

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BTW,

When asked why he hasn't written a piano concerto yet (something that we all fans want to hear), Williams answers that other instruments like the cello are more human, more appropriate to express feelings, etc. He wants to compose a viola concerto in the near future.

So I may say goodbye to the piano concerto :cry:

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I'd also be interested to know what else is available of Family Plot, I have the Varujan Koijan "End Credits" that were released on Varese. Cool stuff. :P

Sabrina is truly charming, a real delight, and Stanley and Iris is one that really surprised me. Lovely, deserves far more attention.

I've never heard the full Earthquake score, but the "Main Titles" are great. Interesting how he has the grand piano accompanying with rhythmic figures in its extreme low register. Fine lyrical horn lines over a 70s style beat.

And I know longer-time collectors don't consider this one overlooked, but I didn't know of The Towering Inferno until I had been a fan for a long time and wish I had discovered it sooner. I recently finally saw the film too.

I understand the clamor over it now. It's just...super. Sweeping, majestic, stunning. Shows off what would become hallmarks of JW's style. Lush, romantic themes, ("An Architect's Dream" - great) and naturally, powerful brass.

The "Main Titles" are now one in my top 10 Williams cues ever. They accompany shots of a helicopter flying over the city, and you can really tell. Rarely have I heard "flying" captured so brilliantly. Williams is tops at that, (though Goldsmith's The Blue Max is also awesome).

This cue has it all: driving beat throughout, majestic wall of sound brass, jaunty syncopated fugal writing in the middle, jumps in dynamics from double fortissimo to piano, fanfare-like theme with rising intervals that continually modulates up and up. The feel reminds me of Jaws' "Shark Cage Fugue" a good deal. I dream of hearing it live - maybe someday. :P

Greta

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Those are as good as his film scores. Specially:  

-Soundings  

-For Seiji!  

-Violin Concerto  

-Trumpet Concerto  

-Clarinet Concerto  

-Bassoon Concerto  

-Tuba Concerto

I've only heard the Violin Concerto on the Treesong CD, are any of the other concertos available on CD?

When asked why he hasn't written a piano concerto yet (something that we all fans want to hear), Williams answers that other instruments like the cello are more human, more appropriate to express feelings, etc. He wants to compose a viola concerto in the near future.  

So I may say goodbye to the piano concerto

Don't give up hope. He might change his mind.

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I'd also be interested to know what else is available of Family Plot, I have the Varujan Koijan "End Credits" that were released on Varese. Cool stuff. :P

This album has the original recording of the "End Titles" in stereo! I wonder who was asleep at the wheel on that one. :P

Neil

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I'd also be interested to know what else is available of Family Plot, I have the Varujan Koijan "End Credits" that were released on Varese.

Also the "End Credits" performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic. There is a slight difference, as I've read, but I'm not sure, because I don't own the Kojian version.

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I've only heard the Violin Concerto on the Treesong CD, are any of the other concertos available on CD?

Yes. There is another recording of the Violin Concerto, which also includes the Flute Concerto. Not conducted by John Williams though.

The Bassoon Concerto is included in the "The Five Sacred Trees" CD, the LSO conducted by John Williams.

You can find the Trumpet Concerto in one CD of trumpetist Arturo Sandoval.

The Tuba Concerto must be the most recorded one. There are 3 or 4 versions. I own the David Snell one, which comes in the "20th Century Concerti" CD. The tempo is pretty slower, but it's an outstanding performance.

And finally, the Cello Concerto is in the "Yo-Yo Ma Plays John Williams" CD.

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Did Artie Kane not have to conduct Jurassic Park because Williams suffered a back injury - I could be wrong but do remember reading this somewhere, it would also explain Kane being thanked in the CD liner notes.

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Did Artie Kane not have to conduct Jurassic Park because Williams suffered a back injury - I could be wrong but do remember reading this somewhere, it would also explain Kane being thanked in the CD liner notes.

That's the rumor. You read something that corroborates it?

Neil

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Mmmm possibly, always preferred the OST version - his concert version is far too quick for my liking. The choir adds an awe-inspiring depth too. On the opposite side of the coin there is his achingly slow rendition of Jim's New Life with the Boston Pops - what was he thinking?

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That Flute Concerto sounds interesting, but it appears there is not a recording of it? (From the "Concert Works" section here).

Also, has anyone ever heard JW's 1966 Symphony No. 1?? 8O (No idea he had ever tried his hand at one!) I see Houston programmed it in the late 80s, but it ended up being replaced... :)

By their choice, or Williams', I wonder?

Greta

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Far and Away  

Amen!

Mmmm possibly, always preferred the OST version - his concert version is far too quick for my liking. The choir adds an awe-inspiring depth too.

Agreed, definitely. No other performance comes close to the OST rendition.....the awe and majesty are greatly reduced in the hastier, chorus-less versions.

On the opposite side of the coin there is his achingly slow rendition of Jim's New Life with the Boston Pops - what was he thinking?

Actually, that was the first version I ever heard of that piece. So the OST sounds way too fast! :)

Ray Barnsbury

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Williams most acomplished concert work is his Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra-- and aparently his own favorite.

The Concerto for Flute was recorded along with the Violin one in 1981 by Leonard Slatkin with the LSO and soloists Mark Peskanov (Violin) and Peter Lloyd (flute) for Varese Sarabande. Orinally released on LP in 1983, the early 90's CD re-issue is long out of print. Is worth not onlçy for the 13 minute long, single movement Flute Concerto, but also for the original version of the Violin Concerto. And while some of the folks around here would rather have it conducted by Williams -- Slatkin is a great conductor, and one of the best advocates of Williams music (listen to his powerful Imperial March on RCA Victor with the Saint Louis SO.

The Tuba Concerto has corrently two oficial releases - plus the recent version for Bass Trombone and piano. If you can only have one, go for the one by Velvet Brown with the Bowling Green Philharmonia, Emily Freeman Brown, conductor. It was in fact the premiere recording, but for some reason, released after teh Snell one. I find it a superior performance, and Mrs. Brwon who was studing back when the Concerto was written asked permission to Williams to record it -- something Williams did, and surelly gives it some credebility. There are at least two other recordings floating around, the world premiere performance with Cehster Schmitz, with the Boston Pops, Williams conducting, with very poor sound, and a more recent one with Fabian Russel as the soloist, along withthe Melbourne SO, Ramon Gamba conducting.

Williams withdrawn his Symphony form his catalogue after the London premiere in 1971, probably after hearing what Bennie Herrmann had to say... He wanted to rework it, and was scheduled for performance in 1988 with the Houston SO, that had gave the world premiere two decades earlier. At the last moment Williams decided to replace it. It was his call, no ones else. There is no recording of it, though I've always dreamed that the London performance may had been broadcasted by BBC, and they may have that recording locked somewhere on their archives...

I remember reading something about Artie Kane, not sure were... most likelly right here!!! But that kind of goes against another story that says Williams conducted the music for one of the Flinstones trailers, during the Jurassic Park sessions. And since Williams gets the credit on the CD, I would believe that kane may ahve done some of the conducting, but not the one on the CD.

Fianlly, about Images, i never really found many suporters of Images -- something I can understand by the way. I even remember a post were everyone was trashing a fellow member because of his love for this score. This is a score that requires a kind of open mind, even maturity if you like, that no one will get from listening only to Star Wars and Harry Potter -- or at the least to its main themes only.

And the Star Wars main theme is hardly Williams best composition!

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