John Williams, Berliner Philharmoniker: The Berlin Concert

DG (2CD) 00289 486 2003 [50:85 & 57:56]

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I was still joyfully working my way through my birthday present of Decca’s 21-disc boxset of ‘John Williams and The Boston Symphony Orchestra Complete Philips Recordings’ (‘A treat’ – BBC Music Magazine) when along came this: the famous yellow label’s celebration of the renowned music man’s 90th birthday.

It recognises him not only as a conductor but also as the greatest film music composer in the world. And the Berlin band is, in Williams’ own words, “perhaps the world’s greatest orchestra.” What a combination!

The 19 musical tracks on two CDs were wonderfully captured live by Deutsche Grammophon during a series of three sold-out concerts in October 2021. Most of the “usual suspects” are here: excerpts and selections from: ‘Close Encounters’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘E.T.’ The concert begins with Olympic Fanfare and Theme, commissioned for the 1984 Los Angeles games.

New to me is the very catchy Suite from ‘Far and Away’, a 1992 romantic adventure drama film starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Nothing to do with films is a moving Elegy for Cello and Orchestra featuring the orchestra’s 1st principal cellist, Bruno Delepelaire.

The main concert ends with an 8’50” standout performance of Throne Room & Finale from ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’. It is followed by three encores.

There are four fascinating introductions by the great man to the music played and these are separately tracked. Not so the well-deserved very enthusiastic audience applause, which might irritate some on repeated listening. And repeated listening is what the brilliantly played and conducted album will get.

Fellow conductor Gustavo Dudamel says of his friend: “He has written the soundtrack of our lives. When we listen to a melody of John’s, we go back in time, to a taste, to a smell. All our senses go back to a moment.”

This release complements ‘John Williams in Vienna’ (DG 4836373)* which I predicted would become a collectors’ item and was the best-selling orchestral album of 2020. It has earned over 100,000 sales and 150 million streams since its release. The album under review does have a handful of tracks in common.

*There is also now a 2-CD ‘John Williams Live in Vienna’ (DG 4839887) with six bonus tracks and intros by the conductor.

© Peter Burt 2022

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