Composers: John Williams
Performers: Anne-Sophie Mutter v, The Recording Arts Orchestra
of Los Angeles/John Williams
Catalogue Number: DG 4797553
“Anne-Sophie [Mutter] is many things… a great artist, a brilliant woman who brings honour to her country, and, through her many travels, a highly contributive and outstanding world citizen. There is, however, one thing that she is not. She is not a woman you can say no to. I couldn’t ever… and never would!”
So writes John Williams in his sleeve note to this toothsome collection of movie themes arranged, at Mutter’s request, by the composer himself and recorded in Culver City, California in the very same room where iconic scores like The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain and Doctor Zhivago were recorded many, many years ago. Experience dictates that such projects can easily result in a patchwork of greatest hits, or worse, a surfeit of bon-bons, but in this instance, the combination of talents has come up with something special, and in reconceptualising for violin and orchestra Williams has generated a dozen musical portraits, each more colourful than the last.
The disc opens with Rey’s Theme from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but don’t be put off, you don’t need to know who Rey is (if I told you she was a Jakku scavenger, would that help? Thought not…). Originally scored for flute and tuned percussion, its attractive folkish melody translates perfectly to violin. Williams’ treatment is lush, as it is in the film, with Mutter sailing gracefully over the top. Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone receives a virtuoso performance full of double stopping, racing divisions, pizzicato, and some stunning cadenza passages. Hedwig, of course, is an owl, but here think heroine from a Prokofiev ballet score with a dash of Korngold.
Williams’ melodic gifts are on full display in the romantic title track Across the Stars (from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), but Mutter too is given equal scope to shine in more earthy numbers like the Irish-inflected Donnybrook Fair from the Nicole Kidman costume drama Far and Away.
Personal favourites would have to include the wistful impressionism employed in both Sayuri’s Theme from Memoirs of a Geisha and the haunting Night Journeys from Dracula.
DG’s engineering is Rolls Royce-standard. The sound picture appropriately expansive, with Mutter given plenty of presence but, sensitive artist that she is, she’s never in your face. “Presented on the violin, they become a different emotional experience,” says Williams of these pieces, and how right he is. Yes, there’s an underlying sweetness to this musical chocolate box, but when the music-making is so delicious, I for one was more than happy to put my feet up and scoff the lot in one go.