Founded in 1908, the Philharmonic Orchestra of the State Theater Cottbus in Brandenburg, Germany dates back more than a hundred years. Today, under its energetic and relatively youthful Music Director, American Evan Christ, the ensemble plays a wide variety of music, from Bach to Mahler and beyond. In 2010 they performed their first concert of tunes by John Williams to sold-out audiences. The present album gives you some idea why.
Spanning a career that so far covers over sixty years and includes over forty Oscar nominations, American composer, conductor, and pianist John Williams (b. 1932) has become probably the most-popular writer of orchestral music in the world. I would be willing to bet that more people worldwide recognize and admire his scores for such films as Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Superman, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter than they do most anything by Mozart or Beethoven. Understand, I'm not suggesting that Williams is a better composer than Mozart or Beethoven, only that possibly more people have heard Williams's orchestral music than any other. My guess is that, at the least, in a hundred years people may still listen to Williams's orchestral output more than they do any other twentieth-century composer. But that's speculation on my part, and probably not relevant to anything in particular.
Anyway, Christ and his Cottbus orchestra play segments from all the soundtracks named above, with the Olympic and Liberty Fanfares thrown in for good measure. So what sets these interpretations apart from the 800 other recordings of John Williams's music? I'd say it's mainly the enthusiasm of Maestro Christ, which one can feel throughout the program. Also, it's the obvious sensitivity of the conductor, his feeling for nuance, tension and release, as, for example, expressed in his readings of the scores for Jaws and Superman, which come off sounding more serious, more important, than they often do. Sometimes this sensitivity comes at the expense of the utmost degree of excitement and thrills, but that's the price you pay. It's what sets Christ's renditions of this familiar music apart from the rest. You take what you get.
Saving the best for last, Christ gives us a rousing version of the Star Wars title music, among the best you'll find by anyone anywhere.
Overall, though, this is probably not music you need to hear again, as most folks have at least a few albums with the most popular John Williams scores on it. But if you want a good all-around selection of Williams's most-celebrated tunes, certainly Christ's album fills the bill.
Balance engineer Hans-Ulrich Holst and recording director Joachim Krist made the album in 2014 at what I assume to be the orchestra's home hall. Although the sound is a bit more resonant and distanced than you usually hear, it provides for a lifelike seating position and fairly well emulates a real-life concert-hall listening experience. Highs glisten; mids are a bit soft; deepest bass is rather shy; orchestral depth is good; and dynamics seem about average. Overall, the sound slightly favors the high end, yet it isn't especially bright or edgy; it could just use a little more bass substance and warmth.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: