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Review: RLPO presents John Williams' music for Spielberg *****

It’s not uncommon for the RLPO to produce a gloriously cinematic sound.

But a whole evening? That’s certainly what you get when you present a programme packed with the rich, round, heart-swelling, neoromanticism of John Williams.

This triumphant concert, repeated tonight and produced in collaboration with the European Film Harmonic Institute, shows what a composing chameleon the 87-year-old master of the movie soundtrack has been – and over many, many decades.

Williams has 51 Oscar nominations and five statuettes among his many accolades, and his partnership with Steven Spielberg, spanning 30 films over 45 years, has been particularly fruitful, both creatively and for the award mantelpiece.

It’s an embarrassment of riches which stretches from The Sugarland Express to The Post and takes in some of the most famous and critically-acclaimed cinema of the 20th and 21st century.

This concert presented excerpts from 10 of those soundtracks, accompanied by either film footage or stills, and encompassing a sweep of the composer’s varied back catalogue, from the grandeur of his radiant score for Jurassic Park to the Mitteleuropa feel of Viktor’s Tale from The Terminal, complete with a fluidly winding clarinet solo from Pedro Franco Lopez.

There were starring moments for several orchestra members during the evening, not least leader Thelma Handy who brought an exquisite and affecting beauty to the solemn klezmer-like lament of Schindler’s List, and Rob Buckland who took centre stage for a trio of spiralling sax-driven, off-kilter jazz infused segments from Spielberg’s 60s caper Catch Me if you Can.

The pre-war pastoral idyll evoked in heart-tugging fashion in War Horse’s Dartmoor 1912 offers more than a passing nod to Vaughan Williams (and his Lark Ascending), and here featured an airy and plaintive flute line from Cormac Henry.

There was also plenty of drama as the Phil, under Petrenko, summoned up the ominous atmosphere of the opening of Jaws, created a starburst of swashbuckling sound in a gallop through Indiana Jones (Williams at the zenith of his absolute mastery of the memorable musical theme), and carried the energy through the glistening scores of Hook, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET.

If you’ve only ever heard a film soundtrack in the cinema, or through the electronic confines of a laptop or phone, hearing it performed live by a full symphony orchestra surely must be a revelatory and transformative moment.

And it was joyous to witness the reaction of the audience, which included a large proportion of youngsters along with a number of people new to live classical music, and whose response showed how exhilarated and moved they were by the experience.

It was a response that was rewarded by not one but two encores, including a roof-raising thunder through Williams’ iconic Star Wars theme.

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