Classical Music Review: New Releases

John Williams. Artificial Intelligence (Original Soundtrack Recording). 1. The Mecha World; 2. Abandoned In The Woods; 3. Replicas; 4. Hide and Seek; 5. For Always; 6. Cybertronics; 7. The Moon Rising; 8. Stored Memories and Monica's Theme; 9. Where Dreams Are Born; 10. Rouge City; 11. The Search For The Blue Fairy; 12. The Reunion; 13. For Always. Lara Fabian; Barbara Bonney and Josh Grohan vocalist. John Williams conducting the studio orchestra. Warner Sunset 9-48096-2.  70'11".

John Williams and Steven Spielberg are one of the most famous composer-director teams in film history. And, like Nino Rota and Fellini, Herrmann and Hitchcock, Takemitsu and Kurosawa, and Alex North and Huston they've worked together frequently. Williams, in fact, has scored 17 Spielberg pictures. His newest one, for the director's mega-hyped version of Kubrick's story, A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), is in some ways a return to the highly lyric style he's used in films like The Reivers (1969) or Seven Years In Tibet (1997), which though entirely different from Glass' score for Scorsese's Kundun (1997), is also about the early life of the current Dalai Lama. And his Tibet score is very expressive and subtly orchestrated too.

Though A.I scores high marks in both departments it's also full of thefts.  Williams has frequently stolen and/ or referenced  dead composers -- Walton, Wagner and Herrmann in Superman (1978), Debussy, with hints of Stravinsky in Jaws (1975), and Holst and Korngold in the first two Star Wars (1977;1980), but now he's stealing /referencing/paying homage to two of Juilliard's most famous living alumni -- "Minimalists" Glass and Reich. The 25" fanfare intro in "The Mecha World" is followed by a marimba-dominated ostinato straight out of any number of Reich's early ensemble pieces, with bits of his The Desert Music (1983) appearing at c. 1'18" There are even pulsed John Adams figures in the lower strings at c. 2'28" over which Williams adds splashy touches. The composer seems to get his own voice back in the brass interlude at c. 4'16" and in the succeeding chromatic passages which he writes for high-pitched winds, brass and percussion. Further thefts are just as obvious, and effective.  A Glass-like sequence of progressively ominous broken chords is the base on which he builds "Abandoned In The Woods", and "Rouge City opens with a Glass figure overlaid with typical Williams tunes and harmonies. The composer also shows his erudition by writing a dirge for divided strings in "Cybertronics" which sounds like Shostakovich, and he's also evoked in the fugue which drives lots of "The Moon Rising".

Though Williams' steals may be obvious to knowing ears they add color and excitement to A.I, and he's fluent in many styles. "Replicas" for instance, with its eerie -- and uncredited -- wordless male and female choruses is in the dissonant idiom most people think of as modern, while "Hide and Seek" is, naturally enough, in the form of a round, albeit a free-fantasy one. Williams' lyric touch is most obviously heard in the song "For Always" (words Cynthia Weil, arrangement David Foster), and it's beautifully sung as a solo by Lara Fabian in track 5 and as a duet with Josh Grohan in track 13, and this sturdy waltz tune with melodic extensions is a lot better than the composer's love song in Superman. Classical superstar soprano Barbara Bonney is appropriately radiant in the vocalise of "Monica's Theme", with its echoes of the Gorecki 3rd Symphony in both outline and accompaniment, and her also wordless "For Always" in "Where Dreams Are Born" and "The Search For The Blue Fairy". This is a lovely score and the sound here has subtlety and undeniable power. The playing is spectacular too.

Michael McDonagh
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