If I had to guess which orchestral music of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries would survive into the twenty-second century and beyond, I'd put my money on the film scores of John Williams being among them.
Here, Mr. Williams conducts some of his better-known works to accompany violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, largely in special adaptations for violin and orchestra made by Williams just for Ms. Mutter. How successful the music is in their new arrangements may depend on how familiar you already are with the original film scores and how attached you are to them. Arranged for Ms. Mutter, they can come across as somewhat dewy-eyed to some listeners while being downright inspirational to others. For me, they were pleasantly charming, if fairly lightweight and sometimes schmaltzy.
The Recording Arts Orchestra under the direction of Mr. Williams appears to understand Ms. Mutter's relatively gentle, lyrical, romantic approach to these tunes, and their accompaniment remains buoyant and breezy throughout. Mr. Williams seemed to tailor-make these new arrangements to Ms. Mutter's style, or at least to her style as represented here.
"In discussing this idea, we both (Williams and Mutter) realized that I had adapted only one or two of these pieces for solo violin and orchestra, and that the remainder of the chosen material would have to be newly developed and orchestrated to complete her album. Because the opportunity to write for a great virtuoso always presents an energizing and exciting opportunity, I set about this project with great enthusiasm. Truly, this endeavor has been a particular joy to me." --John Williams
Here's a list of the album's contents:
1. "Rey's Theme" from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2. "Yoda's Theme" from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
3. "Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone in the US)
4. "Across the Stars" from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
5. "Donnybrook Fair" from Far and Away
6. "Sayuri's Theme" from Memoirs of a Geisha
7. "Night Journeys" from Dracula
8. "Theme" from Sabrina
9. "The Duel" from The Adventures of Tintin
10. "Luke and Leia" from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
11. "Nice to be Around" from Cinderella Liberty
12. "Theme" from Schindler's List
If I had to pick a favorite track, I'd say "Night Journeys" from Dracula (the 1979 version with Frank Langella, for which I had forgotten Williams did the music). Here, Ms. Mutter's violin commands a melodramatic score that perfectly fits the melodrama of the story.
Having heard most of this material in its original form, I can't say Mr. Williams's new adaptations or Ms. Mutter's virtuoso playing improve on things. Yes, some of it is downright syrupy, but it is different and certainly none of it does any harm to the genuine article. Fans of Ms. Mutter will no doubt adore it. Fans of Mr. Williams may wonder what the fuss is about.
I should add, too, that not only is the music rather pop-oriented, the album follows another well-worn tradition of the pop-music industry: It's relatively short. That is, the playing time is rather brief: twelve selections at about fifty-five minutes.
Producer Bernhard Guttler and engineer Shawn Murphy recorded the music in April 2019 at the Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City, CA. According to a booklet note, this was the very location "where, decades earlier, such iconic scores as The Wizard of Oz, Singin' in the Rain and Doctor Zhivago were recorded." So, there's a long film history here. Like Ms. Mutter's playing, the sound is silky and smooth, the violin never too forward, and the orchestra spread out behind and around her (well, OK, maybe too spread out in a cinematic sort of way). Instruments in the orchestra are not particularly well placed, a lot of them appearing to come at us rather haphazardly from here and there around the sound stage. Nevertheless, the violin is well detailed and well positioned, as I say, and always sounds natural, never shrill.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: