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Review by Brad Green:
That young wizardís back; and so is the older one with the magical baton. But wait! Are these liner credits creditable? A John Williams score not conducted by the maestro himself?

That young wizardís back; and so is the older one with the magical baton. But wait! Are these liner credits creditable? A John Williams score not conducted by the maestro himself?†

A clash of commitments apparently forced Williams to pass the baton for the recording, but the music is unmistakable. For all the respect Williams has engendered with serious and delicate scores for films such as Schindlerís List and Angelaís Ashes, it is his theme-work for sci-fi, fantasy and action that has created an instantly recognisable signature.

Williams is now at the stage where not only are a new generation of composers putting their own marks on his models, but he himself is continuously revisiting and reinventing his own styles Ė even mixing and matching genres, as evidenced by the central motif for the first Harry Potter movie (which is reprised here of course) being an unlikely twist on his theme for Schindlerís List.

With a squillion Academy Award nominations to his credit, Williams is well and truly into the venerable-doyen years of his career, but shows no signs of letting up. He is the embodiment of that rare creativity which thrives under a workload instead of being crushed by it. Passing up any opportunity to steer the LSO canít be easy no matter how rich a career. Considering the sacrifices, itís easy to conclude that Williams doesnít mind a tight squeeze to his schedule.

Nor does it affect the standard of his work, which continues to soar through the years and the myriad of films. Having said that, there is something just slightly less bewitching than there might be about this score. It has nothing to do with the conducting of William Ross, or the fact that he was also required to ďadaptĒ some of Williamsí music. An experienced orchestrator and composer in his own right, the LSO sound every bit as virtuosic as they should under Rossís borrowed baton, and his blending of Williamsí established themes from the first film with the new material is both seamless and inventive.†

The other ready assumption that Williamsí pressing deadlines led to a scribbled score is equally erroneous. If anything this soundtrackís strengths are in its details. There are a number of new themes to augment the carried-over motifs, and nearly every cue is replete with intricate arrangements, zig-zagging like an errant broomstick between witty woodwinds, action-evoking strings and both comic and dramatic brass. No one uses the full range of the orchestra better than Williams, and heís not holding back here.

Rather there is just Ė dare I say it? Ė a touch of magic missing. There is almost too much craftsmanship and not enough flair. Perhaps an extension of the conservative philosophy driving the whole production. I canít help feeling that Chris Columbus was appointed to direct these initial installments Ė instead of any director with an ounce of imagination Ė to ensure technical proficiency and faithfulness rather than anything for the annals. Donít take any risks and the young fans will still flock. And the box office accounts have concurred.

Williams has certainly got the mood right. Even the youngest Harry Potter enthusiasts know the protagonist will triumph (after all, theyíve already read the story and the further sequels more than once). This is a universe in which the Dark Arts suggest a blackened room with a light switch in easy reach rather than something truly sinister; and there are more ironically ominous phrases in this soundtrack than you could poke an oversized Quidditch stick at.†

The rider is that it sounds like a series of clever cues, a little akin to the underscoring for a medley of cartoons. Williams knows the vocabulary well: evoking folkloric creatures here, spooky corridors there, and a sense of understated heroism. The only disappointment is that the score seems to be taking us on a tour guide of an enchanted castle instead of offering us the key to its innermost chambers.†

Published November 28, 2002

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TITLE: Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
ID: 7567931592
SCORE: John Williams

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