Anne-Sophie Mutter isn’t the first violinist to record the film music of John Williams – Itzhak Perlman played two items on his Cinema Paradiso album twenty years ago – but she is the first to persuade Williams to make adaptations for an interesting selection, the pieces re-imagined, often quite drastically. If Mutter can sometimes seem too consistently intense in other music she is in her element here and listening is a great pleasure. Her ample tone and virtuosity as well as warmth of personality suit Williams’s music perfectly.
The disc opens with ‘Rey’s Theme’ from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one of the best and most detailed of Williams’s recent scores in which music, rather than dialogue, is often used to advance the film’s narrative; its yearning lyricism allows Mutter a big-sky expansiveness. ‘Yoda’s Theme’ from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back follows with Mutter giving the central lyrical theme a touching wistfulness.
‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone gets a serious makeover in the style of Paganini with dazzling sextuplet runs, pizzicato arpeggios and a cadenza. Mutter supplies the virtuosity with some swagger; very sophisticated yet it loses Williams’s ability to suggest child-like simplicity.
‘Across the Stars’, the love theme for Annakin (Hayden Christiansen) and Padmé (Natalie Portman) from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones also loses some of its emotional impact when turned into a solo although Mutter is at her most passionate. The tension between the theme and the impending threat of war rather goes missing although the threatening brass is well caught.
Mutter bursts out like a coiled spring at the opening of ‘Donnybrook Fair’ from the Nicole Kidman/Tom Cruise vehicle Far and Away and it’s a romp with foot-tapping infectiousness. Mutter is pretty stunning in this with capriciousness alongside exaggerated gestures and playfulness. It’s a very skillful arrangement that sometimes suggests the folk world of Bernard Herrmann’s great score for The Devil and Daniel Webster.
Three less-well-known pieces follow. ‘Sayuri’s Theme’ from Memoirs of a Geisha is a straightforward exercise in orientalism from a score for Rob Marshall’s film that won Williams a BAFTA in 2005; Mutter spins her golden tone. ‘Night Journeys’ from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Dracula is pretty generalised horror with sinister basses, some heavy scoring and the occasional nod towards Shostakovich. Mutter is suitably dramatic. The ‘Theme’ from Sabrina (1995) isn’t Williams at his most distinguished but Mutter catches the music’s gliding, dance-like quality very well.
In ‘The Duel’ from Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Mutter supplies comic cut-and-thrust against the cellos in a virtuosic romp. She lays into ‘Luke and Leia’s Theme’ from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and gives it a sweeping quality; even so it is slightly too long.
‘Nice to Be Around’ from the unfairly forgotten romantic drama Cinderella Liberty (1973) with James Caan and Marsha Mason is a real find. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song and has a bluesy opening and an optimistic conclusion that is attractive. Mutter gives it charm and radiance. She is intense rather than smooth in Schindler’s List, which brings this collection to a melancholy close, recorded in the famous Culver City venue where The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain soundtracks were recorded amongst countless others. The sound is full and warm throughout if set at a high level so that it often seems quite loud. The composer accompanies sympathetically, indulgently even, and the Orchestra plays very well.