Los Angeles Philharmonic is celebrating its centenary with delightfully contemporary focus on its programming. During this season, the orchestra has commissioned and performed a wide repertoire of contemporary music, including Steve Reich’s first orchestral piece in over thirty years, Philip Glass’ Lodger Symphony, John Adams’ new piano concerto for Yuja Wang, Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion and Andrew Norman’s Sustain, to name just a few highlights.
On record, the first album take of the anniversary season comes in a guise of a two-disc live recording from concerts at Disney Hall in January, with the LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel conducting an all-John Williams programme. Following the 2015 season opening concert on C Major blu-ray, this is their second Williams evening captured on disc.
In terms of programming, there was a more diverse setup on the 2015 take, including Soundings (2003), written for the inauguration of the Disney Hall. The new disc, in its turn, focuses solely on Williams’ film scores, apart from the Olympic Fanfare and Theme (1984), a shared item between both programmes.
As a whole, the DG album is a marvellous survey encompassing five decades of Williams’ Hollywood career, from Jaws (1975) to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and everything in between. While the emphasizing on the big adventure films, there are more subtle pieces included, namely Theme from Schindler’s List (1993) and Sayuri’s Theme from Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), both beautifully performed.
There is one new piece on the disc, a string orchestra arrangement from The Force Awakens, titled simply as Adagio (2015/2019). Based on some of the most contemplative material from the original film score, the Adagio is a splendid addition to the encyclopedia of concert pieces from the Star Wars saga. Wonderfully performed by the LA Phil strings and Dudamel, the Adagio is a perfect gem.
In addition to the Adagio, three classic Star Wars pieces are included in the programme. The Imperial March has bears deliciously menacing pomp, while Yoda’s Theme is rooted in most sublime dignity. Solemn and bright, The Throne Room and Finale is one of the absolute highlights of the disc.
Alongside Star Wars, Williams’ contributions to the Harry Potter films are represented with three pieces, with Hedwig’s Theme and Harry’s Wonderful World from The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) obviously included. However, it is Fawkes the Phoenix from The Chamber of Secrets (2002) providing the most awesome effect with the gorgeous LA Phil sound embracing Williams’ hauntingly beautiful cue.
The Spielberg-Williams collaboration is also well documented, though only up to the mid-nineties. The reinvention of classical forms in The Shark Cage Fugue from Jaws and Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) get an astonishing workout from the orchestra and Dudamel, combining gripping intensity with outstanding structural clarity.
A glimpse of modernism is conveyed through Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), a concert adaptation combining several short cues from the film into a quasi-symphonic unity. Again, the unparalleled clarity of the LA Phil perfomance reveals the wealth of detail embedded in Williams’ orchestral craft.
Of all the cues on the album, The Adventure on Earth from E.T. is not only the most extended but also the one most faithful to the actual film cue underscoring the final scenes of the film. Celebrating the art of film scoring at its purest, unedited manner, The Adventure on Earth is a case in point of careful pacing, admirably carried out by Dudamel.
In similar manner, Flight to Neverland from Hook (1991), a concert adaptation combining the original film cue with a trailer-music Prologue, is rooted in splendid sweep and sonic architecture.
Yet, if one was to pick just one highlight from the album, it would probably be Theme from Jurassic Park (1993). In this five-minute cue, mystery, upbeat solemnity and sheer orchestral energy come together in truly unique manner, yielding to one of the most remarkable documents of the truly one-of-a-kind sound of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Rounding off with a brisk performance of the Superman March (1978), the album comes to its brilliant ending. During the tenures of both Dudamel and his predecessor Esa-Pekka Salonen, LA Phil has proven itself as one of the top symphonic ensembles in contemporary and 20th century repertoire, with inspired and idiomatic takes of this multi-faced repertoire. In this respect, Celebrating John Williams is a logical part of the continuum.
Celebrating John Williams
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Simone Porter, violin
Robert deMaine, cello
Recorded at Walt Disney Concert Hall, January 24-27 2019
Deutsche Grammophon (2019)
© Jari Kallio