John Williams (2016)

Why You Should…
If you seek an earnest, charming score packed with unbridled energy, full of heart and scope to suit an auteur John Williams’ capabilities.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If manic woodwinds can be classed as a possible cause for hair loss, or you seek more variety in your ensemble perfomances.

Release Date: July 8th 2016 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): John Williams
Length: 64:45
Recorded By/At: –
Label: UMC

Poor Steven Spielberg’s return to the directorial fore seems to have been unfortunately mistimed. Despite his latest offering, THE BFG being commended by the critical circle, the film would be neglected largely by the American public in favour of July 4th celebrations. One must note however, that despite the same brand of innocence and nostalgic appeal don’t quite fully work as effectively as they did in the days of yesteryear, any film with Spielberg’s name attached is considered to be able to run for several months regardless of the opening weekend shortcomings. A slow, painful mutiny has befallen the director, with numerous individuals claiming his last great film to be Schindler’s List, though any person with a heart and soul could easily single out The Terminal, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse as solid proof to the contrary. Based on the beloved children’s book by Welsh author Roald Dahl and subsequently released on the centenary of his birthday, little Sophie is introduced to the Big Friendly Giant and his Giant Country, and their skewed trust grows deeper as they uncover a surprisingly sinister plot that threatens several children when they sleep at night. Often famed for his silly yet amusing ideas, much of Dahl’s legacy still endures to present day. Fortunately for the majority of the film score community, so does Spielberg’s friendly partnership with revered icon John Williams. The composer, still affectionately clinging to the tag of “Maestro” had experienced a welcome return with his heralded score for the seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise, fully immersing in the celebration he was met with. Time hasn’t been so kind to him however, with a pacemaker fitted inside his heart to ensure complex forms of sophistry and melodic grandeur are delivered from the tip of his baton. When you’re the greatest composer in Hollywood, such a powerful stature of respect comes with frequent scrutiny as to the masterful compositions of your upcoming score, and this has caused an unruly divide among William’s admirers. For those of you expecting him to churn out a masterpiece every score, you will most likely be disappointed by the score, and whilst one shouldn’t really be ostracised too much for that, that kind of belief will only hurt your own commitments to the world of film music on a personal level. Nearly every score the composer writes these days is inevitably held in light with his most ardent classics, hurting the chance for the product to stand strong on its own terms.

That being said, Williams’ work for the BFG is no less than yet another display of meticulous orchestration, and be prepared to be soothed by the pleasantries of his writing. Bursting at the seams with lyrical sensibilities, much of the material concocted for the project is consistently complemented by some of the most rambunctious woodwind performances in recent memory (and perhaps, the composer’s career altogether). You’ll find yourself becoming worn out by these mind-boggling piccolo and flute trills however, but for an underrated department of the orchestra, it is nice to finally hear them getting their due. The strength of Williams’ memorable themes has worn its course over the years, though a strong case can be made for in “Overture”, where he introduces the primary theme for Sophie. A noble horn performs the main theme, with ascending and descending harp swirls and serenading string doubles. Part of that theme does raise memories of “Harry’s Wondrous World” for the well-learned listener, absolute proof that composers (be it conscious or subconscious), are more than capable of repeating themselves. This theme for her is scattered dutifully across the canvas of the score, most notably in the gorgeous “Finale”, laced with simple solo piano, and will likely warrant a few tears or so in part of its humble beauty. Rather intelligent is the structure of the theme, resembling a lullaby in relation to the dreams she experiences, and the piano work requires mention. Also of similar interest is “Sophie’s Future”, heart-warming in character with poignant strings and “Building Trust”, accompanying her exploration of the giants’ land with the BFG. Present in this cue is the aforementioned flute trills, with spirited performances by soloist Heather Clark (she too warrants praise, serving as a source of the score’s likeability), playing rapid chromatic lines of descent in quick fashion.

The motif for the BFG is a bit unclear, perhaps best characterised by the secondary phrase heard first in “The Witching Hour”, on piano and harp in a wistful manner. Key to the narration is the usage of tinkling sound effects, that convey the wonder of the dreams themselves, and this idea is also repeated for good measure.  Heard usually in 3-note phrases, this idea is fleeting but sadly unmemorable unless with repeated listens.  Williams makes a decisive use of the orchestra, flexing the spotlight to the woodwinds primarily, whilst allowing other areas to breathe freely. You hear plodding timpanis in this cue, with strict emphasis on limited percussive palettes. Violins are primarily rooted in the treble region, yielding moments of harmonious delight, and woodwinds are hyperactively laced within the score. Horns and brass in general are accentuated for various purposes, with tubas and bassoons representing the giants. Many of the material is in the dreamy, ¾ waltz like state, rather freely performed in abundance. The lengthiest cue is that of “Dream Country”, ten minutes of pure Williams intelligence and style, with focus on Sophie’s and the BFG’s themes amidst a palette of lush strings and flutes, and celesta. Another motif to contend with is that of the “Dream Ostinato”, hinted at in “To Giant Country”, with bassoon propulsion and a slightly similar version of Finn’s theme from The Force Awakens on oboe /cor anglais, as the brass counter the piccolo in delight. A further motif for Giant Country itself is established and repeated on strings, pleasing to the ear. This ostinato is repeated in both the cues “Sophie’s Nightmare” and “The Queen’s Dream”, interlinking their shared experience. Chromatic piano flutters descending with maniacal woodwinds, the former cue containing a similar build on strings to a horn statement like “March of the Resistance”, and during “Frolic”, at 0:17, you’ll swear you heard a modified calling of “Rey’s Theme”, much of these references perhaps being inserted in good fun by the composer. The final theme is that of the creepy “Fleshlumpeater” (once again showcasing Dahl’s scandalously inventive wordplay), highlighted by a raucous trumpet for the bigger giant, also laced in “Sophie’s Nightmare” as evident foreshadowing of the plot, before making a final musical stand in “Giants Netted”. Flautists will revel in the “Dream Jars” cue, solely built around manic counterpoint between flutes and piccolos and extending the tempi of notes played.  Eventually, all the ideas presented in the score are showcased in the end credits suite “Sophie and the BFG”, reprising the mysterious overture at the beginning and cycling its way through all the themes and statements, with a lovely arrangement to create more appeal, utilising the Giant Country motif, before ending with a series of innocuous fainting flutes. You can clearly tell the Maestro was having fun with this score, not letting his proverbial foot off the woodwind pedal (someone needs to invent such a contraption!) throughout, and equal praise must be given to Clark for her contributions. For a children’s film, very rarely does the emotional appeal consist, inconsistent for the most part, the only truly notable exception being the Finale cue- much of the score compensates with singular respites of beauty instead. As mentioned before, these crazed woodwinds will most likely drive a couple of listeners insane with their vigour, but regardless deserve appreciation. But on solid ground, Williams continues to be a brighter force for the industry, earning a Synaesthesia Nomination for Score of the Year. Flautists and piccolo players, this one’s for you!


Track Listing:
(all music written by John Williams)

1)Overture (1:18)
2)The Witching Hour (4:41)
3)To Giant Country (2:34)
4)Dream Country (10:11)
5)Sophie’s Nightmare (1:58)
6)Building Trust (3:26)
7)Fleshlumpeater (1:37)
8)Dream Jars (3:31)
9)Frolic (1:44)
10)Blowing Dreams (3:47)
11)Snorting and Sniffing (2:14)
12)Sophie’s Future (2:31)
13)There Was A Boy (3:30)
14)The Queen’s Dream (3:09)
15)The Boy’s Drawings (3:06)
16)Meeting the Queen (3:01)
17)Giants Netted (2:04)
18)Finale (2:14)
19)Sophie and the BFG (8:09)




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