Top albums of 2022: Saluting the cinematic horn concerto – John Williams’s Always in pristine expanded edition from La-La Land

As appropriate for celebrating John Williams’s ninetieth birthday year, there has been numerous festivities around the globe, featuring the maestro himself guest-conducting orchestras from Cleveland to Milan, new film scores being recorded in the studio under his baton, as well as several album releases and re-releases, documenting the composer’s work for the screen and the concert hall alike.

Interestingly, perhaps, one of the most captivating disc premieres of 2022 happened to be La-La Land Records’s limited edition release of Williams’s complete original score for Steven Spielberg’s Always (1989). Considerably expanded and gorgeously remastered, the new album presentation allows the listener to delve into each and every cue, including a generous selection of alternate takes, resulting in joyful rediscovery of the music, which ranks among the most inspired orchestral works by the composer.

While the film itself, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter and John Goodman, may not be counted among the most memorable ones by its director, its combination of intimacy, action, love and longing, with notable supernatural overtones embedded, nevertheless inspired Williams to produce a sumptuous orchestral score, featuring notable parts for solo horn, harp and synthesizers.

Given in soaring performance by James Thatcher, the score’s substantial horn part comes off as a mini-concerto, no less, as demonstrated by the terrific eight-minute cue, Among the Clouds, which encompasses the full textural and emotional scope of the score, yielding to a masterpiece in cinematic music. Awash with quasi-impressionist flickering and neo-romantic sweep, Among the Clouds is one of those instant-replay cues to keep the listener spellbound from start to finish.

The ensuing Dorinda Solo Flight constitutes the second movement of the film concerto, adding depth and glow to the music, to a stunning effect. Rounding off with End Credits, the concertante sequence comes to its ravishing close, as the solo horn is joined by full orchestra, with solo piano and synthesizer added, in segments of uplifting symphonic splendor.

Priming the score’s exquisite closing, eleven thrilling cues are heard, accounting the film’s romantic interactions, breath-taking firefighting sequences and, most notably, the mysterious crossings between this world and the one that lay beyond. Here, one finds Williams at his most imaginative, experimenting with harmony and orchestration, to dazzling effect. From the most delicate underscoring of Intimate Conversation and subtle mood-painting of Premonitions to rousing orchestral canvases of Saying Goodbye and the playfulness of Follow Me, not forgetting the aural mysteries of Pete in Heaven, Always covers multitude musical realms, joined together by recurring thematic material and ever-evolving cycles of Williams’s captivating harmonic fabric.

Further delights are to be found among the six additional tracks, accounting film versions and alternate takes, shedding light on the compositional process. While some tracks call for note-to-note comparisons between different versions, others bear striking dissimilarities of structure and instrumentation; the latter being the case between the two End Credits cues, which could hardly be further apart from one another, while still presenting the same core material. On the album, there are seven previously unreleased cues in total, as well as two containing segments of music previously unavailable.

As a whole, the Expanded Edition presents us with top-class, eighty-minute album presentation of a classic Williams score, in which several creative layers are brought together to constitute a film symphony-concerto of astonishing lyricism and color. As ever, the disc is accompanied by pristine liner notes and comprehensive amount of data, including complete personnel credit, honoring the virtuoso orchestral line-up and studio crew. Both the genesis of the film and the score are beautifully documented, down to cue-to-cue analysis of each musical track.

An absolute gem, exploring the composer’s lesser-known musical realms beyond blockbusters, Always is a glistening celebration of invention and craft, as well as an apt reminder of the crucial role of proper album presentation in cherishing the art of film scoring.

Always (1989) – Original motion picture score

John Williams, conductor

James Thatcher, horn

Recorded on October 30, 31, November 1, 2, 10, and December 4, 1989 at Lorimar Music Scoring, Culver City, CA

La-La Land Records LLLCD1527 (2022), 1 CD

© Jari Kallio

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