Beginning in 1991, Sony Classical began releasing compilations of composer John Williams' music for the films of Steven Spielberg. The first, The Spielberg / Williams Collaboration: John Williams Conducts His Classic Scores For The Films Of Steven Spielberg, was released in '91, having been recorded at Symphony Hall in Boston on May 18th, 19th and 25th 1990 with Williams conducting the Boston Pops Orchestra. That compilation covered the composer's work with the director from their first collaboration with 1974's The Sugarland Express, through the breakthrough film for both - 1974's Jaws - up to 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Four years later, in 1995, Williams once again conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall. Entitled Williams On Williams: The Classic Spielberg Scores, this collection includes some of the films featured on the first collection, such as 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1979's 1941, 1982's E.T., and 1987's Empire of the Sun, but is mainly focused on the three films released in the interim since the first collection: Hook, Jurassic Park, and Schindler's List.
The third volume, released in 2017, was entitled The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration Part III, and was previously only available as part of the 3-CD and DVD set John Williams / Steven Spielberg - The Ultimate Collection (or the 6-LP set, also released by Music On Vinyl's At the Movies imprint in 2017). It covers only material released since the 1995 set, with the exception of "Marion's Theme" from Raiders of the Lost Ark. While it contains a wide swathe of music, including Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, and a three-movement suite from Catch Me If You Can, it does omit A.I. and War of the Worlds.
Available now as three double LPs, each on transparent clear vinyl and limited to 1500 numbered copies each, there's a lot of music to get through. The label describes the compilations as attempts "to encapsulate the fruits of their longtime collaboration" and, for the most part, these releases really succeed, thanks in part to how they're compiled.
The first two installments can be considered "the greatest hits", covering every memorable track John Williams ever composed for a classic Steven Spielberg film: "Raiders' March", the themes for Jaws and Jurassic Park, E.T.'s "Flying", "The Dialogue" from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and so many more. Again recorded with the Boston Pops Orchestra, for whom Williams was the conductor for fourteen seasons, the records feature re-recorded versions of the classic themes. Given how well the orchestra and conductor know each other, the compositions are often just as vibrant and exciting as their original film recordings. "The Lost Boys Ballet" from Hook manages to sound even more lithe and nimble, lightly tripping out of the speakers and into whatever room in which it plays.
The vinyl pressings are excellent. Though there's a hint of crackle here and there, it's minimal, and each LP sounds as robust as the last. However, that robustness does mean that some of the more subtle elements are lost when competing with the orchestral elements. Vocal pieces especially seem to get buried a little lower than one might hope, but given that their inclusion is minimal, it's not as noticeable as it might be.
The Jurassic Park theme is interesting in that the intro to the cue sounds a bit thin, but when it kicks into the strings which lead into the iconic melody, it builds its swells in layers, so that by the time the brass is added, the entirety of the orchestra comes through clearly. The instrument separation is stronger than on previous recordings, which might make the piece seem a little wilder than one is used to, but being able to hear the flutes individually from the violins is really quite a delight.
However, while the first two collections do feature a great many "greatest hits", there are still some interesting side trips to be found into lesser-known Williams and Spielberg collaborations. Most notably, there is a track from 1941 on each of the first two collections. The film was by no means a bomb, but it's certainly not as well-regarded as many of Spielberg's other films. That said, the film's title march is rather excellent, and stands up there with any of the other titular themes composed by Williams.
But it's on the third collection where things get really interesting. While the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles might be a different collection of musicians than the Pops, they certainly know how to perform these scores with aplomb. Williams is best known for his big orchestral scores which look back to the golden age of Hollywood, but the composer began his career working as a session musician with Henry Mancini. However, for the majority of Williams' career, he's rarely worked in that rather more jazzy mode, at least in terms of film scores. There was a bit of it in his work for the Lost In Space television series, but even in Williams' Oscar-winning adapted score for Fiddler on the Roof, one could hear the sense of classical romantic music beginning to take hold.
So it's quite a wonderful surprise to get to the first LP of The Spielberg / Williams Collaboration Part III, in which almost the entirety of the second side is given over to Catch Me If You Can's three “Escapades For Alto Saxophone And Orchestra” movements: “Closing In”, “Reflections”, and “Joy Ride”. The use of vibraphone evokes an earlier era than the '60s setting of the film (it's very Lionel Hampton) but the sheer joyousness of the composition carries the free-wheeling spirit of the film.
It's definitely in stark contrast to the military-style “Hymn To The Fallen" from Saving Private Ryan on the third side, which manages to stir the heart and evoke tears with the subtle use of the California State University, Fullerton, Singers. However, that's what really stands out about all of the 40-plus tracks selected for these three compilations: they reflect the movie they're in, even divorced from the visuals. With the exception of E.T., Indiana Jones, and Bruce the shark from Jaws on the cover of The Spielberg / Williams Collaboration, the images contained on and within the gatefold jackets of these records are all of John Williams or Steven Spielberg. There are no nods to the films, otherwise.
That's the point of all of this music. It evokes an emotional response, be it the rousing marches or romantic interludes or evocative mystery. The listener can drop the needle on any one of these cuts and be transported to another time and another place, be it their own personal experiences watching these seminal films or on a flight of imagination to somewhere else entirely.
The Spielberg / Williams Collaboration: 9/10
Williams On Williams: 10/10
The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration Part III: 8/10
THE SPIELBERG / WILLIAMS COLLABORATIONS / COMPOSER: JOHN WILLIAMS / LABEL: MUSIC ON VINYL & SONY CLASSICAL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW