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The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Paul Bateman and Nic Raine
Crouch End Festival Chorus (Choir Master - David Temple)

The latest in Silva Screen's ongoing series of composer compilations is this monstrously huge 2CD 140 minute tribute to one of the most loved composers of the cinema, John Williams.  This set has a lot to live up to, since all of the previous releases in the series (James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, and John Barry) have been superb, giving faithful reinterpretations of most of the best known (and lesser known) works of each composer.  The question is, does the Williams album live up to these?  I'd have to say yes, and, while not as perfect as the Goldsmith and Herrmann releases, it outshines the earlier Horner album.  Most of the main scores of Williams' career are touched upon, as well as a few harder to get titles, such as The Rare Breed and Family Plot.  In fact, I think even the most die-hard Williams junkie could find something new on here.  One of my main complaints, however, is the sometimes-shoddy quality of the performances.  Sometimes the orchestra takes a piece much too fast for their skill level and ends up flubbing a few notes, especially in the brass. That only happens a few times, however, and the City of Prague Philharmonic is usually in their top form.

Track by Track:
1. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: End Credits (6:41)
I like the idea presented here - open and close with the Indiana Jones series.  Instead of the typical Star Wars or Jurassic Park, we have a somewhat neglected score that's now hideously rare and expensive.  The end credits present most of the themes heard in the score, opening with a jovial presentation of the Jones theme, segueing into a quick recap of parts of the Slave Children Parade, next playing the somewhat typical (while still marvelous) love theme (strongly supported by cluster chords), and finally ending with more of the Jones theme.  Unfortunately, the album is opened quite mediocrely (is that a word?) performance-wise.  While the orchestra ferociously attacks the brassy Jones theme with gusto, they falter in the faster parts, which also carries over to the Slave March.  I guess the love theme performance is OK, though.  For those who haven't heard this suite, however, it's bound to impress, particularly the awesome brass theme in Parade Children march.

2. Saving Private Ryan: Hymn to the Fallen (6:03)
Silva goes with another somewhat unexpected choice for their second track, the sole highlight of Williams' critically panned Saving Private Ryan.  Since it's a slow piece, the orchestra and chorus doesn't show any of the flubs present in the previous track.  The composition itself is a mournful elegy to all who perished during World War II, with a brass and chorus melody accompanied by strings and snare drum.  To me, this piece's first section is a little overdone, with the composer mercilessly pulling at every heartstring determined to make the listener burst into tears.  Unfortunately, I don't think it really works.  However, with the final statement of the melody after a brass interlude, the composer accomplishes a lot more emotional effect with slightly stronger orchestration.

3. Hook: Main Themes (4:07)
Moving on to lighter territory, this is a short suite of some of the themes from one of the master's best scores.  I don't think there's any way they could have included every theme present, since there's well over 10.  The arrangement is made up of the entire Prelude track intercut with one sequence from the 10 minute "Ultimate War" track.  It should convince those who don't own it yet to run out and buy it, but the transition between the tracks is jarring to those of us who have already heard it.  Also, the disjointed nature of the action cue makes it somewhat weird for a concert piece.  Unfortunately, the orchestra's shortcomings are present here, mostly in the woodwinds, for they butcher several of the more rapid runs.  Come to think of it, the brass performance isn't that hot either...

4. Hook: When You're Alone (3:00)
Why? Why? Why?  I've always hated this song with a vengeance, especially with that talentless kid they found to sing the melody on the OST.  The melody is even more manipulative than Hymn to the Fallen, and it, like parts of E.T., is enough to make you want to skip the track.  Luckily, for this album, the producers chose to put it into an orchestral arrangement, which isn't nearly as grating on the nerves as that pathetic sung arrangement.

5. The Cowboys: Overture (9:41)
I was originally going to write some kind of merciless derogatory sarcastic comment along the lines of "Whoa! I didn't know Aaron Copland wrote film scores in the '70s!  Wait, that's just John Williams ripping him off."  Oops, I just said it.  However, I now realize that this was uncalled for, since there's not much else you can do in a Western, and Williams is extremely talented at this kind of Americana writing.  The track is made up of several themes, most notably a fun, brassy fanfare as the main theme, and a quieter theme which is quite nice, although it is reminiscent of Superman's main Smallville theme.  Overall, this extremely fun and moving track is easily one of the highlights of the compilation.  Earlier problems with performance have been eliminated here, even in the racing brass parts.

6. Born on the Fourth of July: End Credits (5:44)
Another one of Williams' forgotten masterpieces, this is an elegy for the Vietnam War, which succeeds much more than Saving Private Ryan.  Quite frankly, the string writing present here is some of the most impressive and moving I've ever heard.  After a section based on the main string theme, a solo trumpet melody enters with the strings, which is even more moving than the opening theme.  Another highlight of the album.

7. Family Plot: End Titles (3:53)
It's a shame that this doesn't have a full commercial release readily available, since it's another great Williams score and a big departure from his normal style.  For Hitchcock's last film, the composer crafted an awesome score that's both fun and spooky at the same time, based around a haunting choral theme.

8. JFK: Arlington (7:25)
Yet more political elegies from John Williams!  This piece is pretty strange for a Williams score, in that it's written in a impressionistic, nearly atonal style, which isn't the most exciting thing to listen to, but nevertheless impressive.  It opens with a mournful French horn theme, which eventually turns quite modernistic and almost dissonant.  Next is a disquietingly dissonant string section, almost to the level of Psycho in atonality and depression.

9. JFK: End Titles (2:41)
The solo horn theme returns for a few seconds, but it's now in a major key.  The rest of the credits are made up of a joyful, yet bittersweet melody for the entire orchestra.

10. Empire of the Sun: Exsultate Justi (5:00)
This supremely uplifting choral selection has always been one of the most impressive in the composer's oeuvre, with an almost Baroque orchestral accompaniment, with the choral work carrying a subtle Oriental flavor.  While the original composition was strictly for boys' choir, this concert arrangement is for a full 4-part chorus, which is much more impressive than the other arrangement.  I don't think the performance reaches the quality of the one on the Spielberg/Williams compilation, however.

The Rare Breed Suite (18:33)
11. Universal Emblem/Hilary's Plight/Double Crossed/Tallow Ho (5:30)
Another of Williams' neglected Westerns, which hasn't been released before in any form.  It introduces some of his later Indiana Jones action scoring, while still giving plenty of Coplandesque Americana, if you go for that sort of thing.  "Universal Emblem" gives a quick summation of the main theme, since there wasn't a real opening title sequence.  "Hilary's Plight" is an action cue using some kind of beating pipe, meant to symbolize the train present on screen.  "Double Crossed" stays down in the lower orchestral ranges most of the time, with several dissonant woodwind parts.  "Tallow Ho" is more upbeat, giving a jaunty statement of the main theme.

12. Scottish Romeo/The Hunt (2:41)
A mock Scottish oboe solo is introduced here, accompanied by strings.  "The Hunt" is another brassy action cue, predating Indiana Jones.  It's got some great brass fanfares, and the orchestra is now able to keep up with the furious pace.  At various places, the composer interpolates the Scottish theme.

13. On His Own (5:59)
The tone returns to dissonant negativity, and this desolate cue is somewhat nondescript.  It somewhat perks up later into a typical Williams brass/string theme.  The main theme is interpolated, as well.

14. The Cross-Breed/End Credits (4:23)
Another downbeat version of the main theme forms the first cue, later transforming into a huge brass fanfare, which segues into the credits.   The typical Williams-Copland sound is conjured up again, giving a rousing end to the first disc.  Overall, The Rare Breed is only for Williams completists, since there aren't that many noteworthy moments.

1. The Towering Inferno: Main Theme (5:07)
Silva represents Williams' foray into disaster movie scoring with the main theme to one of his most loved disaster scores.  Unfortunately, to these '90s ears it sounds unbelievably dated, especially with a syncopated snare drum accompaniment which gives it the feel of one of those cheesy '70s TV show themes like M*A*S*H.  There are some spectacular brass fanfare moments, however.

2. Amistad: Dry Your Tears Afrika (3:39)
Adding to his collection of ethnically-flavored choral pieces is this salute to Africa.  It's another great Williams composition, although not on the level of, say, "Exsultate Justi."  The main theme is sung in female chorus, and it's a spectacular melody, built upon in the second section.  Also present is a host of ethnic percussion.

3. Superman: Love Theme (6:11)
One of my all-time favorite Williams concert arrangements, this breathes new life into the seemingly unmovable love theme from Superman.  The arrangements begin with an innocent statement for woodwinds, accompanied by horn cluster chords and pizzicato strings.  The orchestration continues to become more grand, until the theme has become almost a brassy fanfare, at which point the music is taken back down to earth.

4. Superman: Main Theme (4:11)
I think everyone knows this by now - it's the concert arrangement of the main titles, minus the prologue found on the current Varese rerecording.  The tempo is more in key with Williams' original interpretation than the more bittersweet and laid back Debney recording.  Although some of the orchestra's previous brass problems attempt to plague them, they shoot the errors down quickly.

5. The River: Main Theme/Love Theme (5:03)
More typical Williams Americana pervades this cue, which is somewhat nondescript, yet still fully serviceable.  Interestingly, the theme takes on more of a pop coloring, which also dates it somewhat like Towering Inferno.

6. Black Sunday: Fugue, Scherzo, and Finale (10:31)
The fugue for this terrorist movie is based on a string melody, and is a typical Williams fugue, much like the Shark Cage fugue from Jaws, but not as grand.  The string melody is more Baroque than most, and the orchestration continually becomes more desperate until finally exploding into a percussion section.  Scherzo, while more desperate than some of the composer's other pieces, is thoroughly enjoyable.  Finale is a spectacular action cue made up of these 2 themes.  The suite here depicts Black Sunday as one of the composer's most exciting, and sadly most people haven't heard it.

7. Jaws: Main Theme (2:16)
I won't really go into this, since you'd have to be dead not to have heard this theme.  It's the usual concert arrangement found on the OST.  The performance is nothing to get excited about, although it's a lot better than some of the others on here.

Star Wars Suite (12:45)
8. Star Wars: Main Title (5:24)
Again, you'd have to be dead not to have heard this.  Unfortunately, the performance is one of the most flawed on the album, with even the opening fanfare flubbed up.  They take it at a slower pace, which adds a new dimension of majesty to the main title, but really hurts the end credits section, which always needs to be played rapidly.

9. The Empire Strikes Back: Han Solo and the Princess (4:09)
This concert arrangement of Williams' best love theme wasn't on the OST, and is similar to his Superman love theme concert arrangement.  The cue "Han Solo and the Princess" from the original is played almost verbatim at the beginning, but a completely new arrangement forms the second half, played in a higher key.  Later, the princess's theme makes a short cameo, blended with the theme, which creates a great effect.  Overall, this concert suite is one of the most moving on the compilation.

10. The Empire Strikes Back: Imperial March (3:12)
Another one of those themes that you need to be shot if you don't know.  This follows Williams' standard concert arrangement, present on the OST, but with added bass drum, which really beefs up the orchestration.  I'd have to say that the orchestra plays this a lot more skillfully than some of the other selections.

11. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Conversation Begins/Main Title/Resolution and Finale (8:16)
This is one of the strangest arrangement's I've ever heard of Close Encounters music, and I have to say that it's quite disjointed and jarring.  Williams crafted a much superior arrangement elsewhere, which is what is usually performed.  A quick snippet of the conversation track, featuring that dreaded five-note motif begins the suite, played on synths instead of acoustically.  Next comes the main title, which is that famous dissonant buildup to a choral burst.  Finally, the last section of the finale music is played, minus "When you wish upon a star."  The transitions here are all quite rough, especially between the first 2 cues.  Also, taken out of context, the finale loses all of its majesty and splendour.  On the OST, after an hour of horror and uncertainty, this opening up of the orchestra is really a spectacular finale, but here it's totally uncalled for.

12. Presumed Innocent: End Titles (4:15)
One of the maestro's most unusual scores is presented here, even using synths.  Typical pop sensibilities are brought up here, later masked by a moving piano theme.  Later, a military-esque string section with droning bass synths appears.

13. Schindler's List: Theme (4:01)
With this, Williams crafted what many hold as his most moving score, and I am forced to agree.  The compositional talent here is staggering, and this is sure to be remembered as the composer's magnum opus.  A solo violin carries the melody, sometimes going up into it's highest register.

14. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: End Title (10:48)
More from Indiana Jones ends the album, and this end credits suite is one of his most compositionally strong and exciting.  He manages to give nearly every theme from the grail theme to the father and son theme a full concert arrangement.  The grail theme, which wasn't heard a lot in the score opens up to a full brass arrangement, one of the most moving sections in the score.  Also noteworthy is the rip-roaring action spectacular "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra," another main highlight of the Indiana Jones series.

In the end, this compilation is mostly noteworthy for newbies to film music, although there are bound to be a multitude of cues that even the die-hard Williams collector doesn't own.  However, don't buy it just for the world premier of The Rare Breed, as it's not that special.  Again, the major complaint against this album is the lack of strong performances, although I don't think anything can live up to the quality of the original soundtracks.  Special mention goes to the liner notes by David Wishart, which give splendid accounts of all of the movies and their respective scores.  Finally, 140 minutes is too long to just sit down and listen to.  It's better if you want to just hear a couple themes at a time.

Close Encounters Compilation: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 9/10
Orchestral Performance 5/10
Sound Quality 9/10
Length 7/10
Overall 8/10
This time, since this is a compilation, you should pay attention to the overall rating.

Close Encounters is Copyright 1999 by Silva Screen.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.