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A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration
Fourteen previously released selections, one new: Happy Birthday Variations
Yo-Yo Ma (Elegy for Cello and Orchestra, "Going to School" from Memoirs of a Geisha), Itzhak Perlman (Theme from Sabrina, Theme from Schindler's List)
John Williams conducting various orchestras

Review By Joe Milicia


  To celebrate John Williams' 80th birthday, and of course to make a little more money from their vault possessions, Sony Classical has released a CD of Williams conducting his own music, originally recorded 1990-2011 with various studio orchestras, the Boston Pops and, in the two Itzhak Perlman selections, the Pittsburgh Symphony. It is quite a well-chosen compilation, mixing Williams' best-known works — music from Jaws, E.T., Schindler's List, Star Wars — with less familiar items, including cuts from his most recent soundtracks: The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse and the latest Indiana Jones movie. The final cut is a previously unreleased 5-minute work, Happy Birthday Variations, an occasional piece celebrating the birthday of Seiji Ozawa (the dedicatee) and others, recorded in 1999 with the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles.

Despite the 20-year span of recording times and the variety of venues, the sound is close to uniformly excellent, at least on my equipment: brilliant without being glaring or "artificial." The brass have the heft that the music demands, but the more intricate woodwind parts are clear as well. I found myself especially enjoying Williams' conducting of the Jaws selection ("Out to Sea/The Shark Cage Fugue" with the Boston Pops) and the hard-driving new Tintin music (soundtrack recording). The Happy Birthday Variations are very reminiscent of Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, but still fun: the piece opens with a witty arrangement of the famous tune for a quartet of horns, followed by a percussion statement (with a harp cadenza in the middle), a thorny variation for woodwinds, a resplendent one for brass, a fine Brittenesque one for strings, and a Williamseque — that is to say, a Hollywood-soundtrack-style — ending.

The booklet includes an appreciative essay by David Foil and photos with birthday messages from Spielberg, Lucas, Perlman and Ma.





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