Here we have yet another release of the usual John Williams fare. It is not conducted by John Williams, a fact that Decca seems to go out of its way to conceal. But it is played by the London Symphony Orchestra, and their effortless virtuosity, along with sweetly singing tenderness, are everywhere on display. This collection is conducted by Gavin Greeaway, known almost solely as a studio conductor of movie soundtracks of other composers's scores for the films themselves. And to be fair, he brings a symphonic grandeur and plenty of flair to these familiar themes. The only track unique to this collection is an arrangement of the Schindler's List theme for solo cello rather than the usual violin. It's fine; nothing special, despite heartfelt playing from the LSO's principal cellist.
One nice touch, however, is the inclusion in the booklet of quotes from featured members of the orchestra for each track. These do not seem "scripted" or shallow; rather, they express sincere admiration for the genius of John Williams as a composer and reveal how rewarding his scores are to play. One interesting little tidbit I learned from principal trumpet, Philip Cobb, was that the former principal trumpet's very first day on the job (Maurice Murphy) was recording the soundtrack for the original Star Wars film. What a challenging way to prove your chops!
The sound is plush and expansive, perhaps revealing this recording was made in joint partnership with FM Classics. It sounds much more like an FM Classics recording than a Decca one. It is rich, warm and smooth, in a glowing and spacious acoustic. Certainly the highlight is the playing of the LSO, which is truly fabulous. However, John Williams's own Boston Pops recordings (for Philips and SONY) have more life and an immediate presence that this Decca tends to smooth over.
In sum, I'm not sure we really needed this recording. If you already own any of John Williams' own recordings of these themes (with the Boston Pops), there is absolutely no reason to buy this new release. With just 10 tracks totaling 50 minutes' playing time, this is hardly "A Life In Music", as Decca wants you to believe they have here. However, it is offered at slightly less than full price; and with spectacular playing and beautiful recording quality, it is tempting and not likely to disappoint.