CD REVIEW: John Williams ‘Concerto’

When John Williams decides to release a recording it is an event eagerly anticipated and well worth waiting for. Without the constraints of a record company this is a JCW special, which makes for a decidedly more personal approach, which is justifiably how John Williams feels his artistic choices should go, in the face of an unequalled and glittering career playing the guitar for a living.


The definition of a concerto is not adhered to in any traditional or formal sense here, except for perhaps the Edwards and Goss ‘concertos’, which do have three movements, the central movement being slower than the outer ones. And neither are they ‘world premières’, Danzas Peregrinas first performed at the Barbican, November 24 2004; Arafura Dances first performed in Darwin, Australia July 7 1995 and the Concerto by Stephen Goss had its premiere with Graham Roberts playing it, at Royal and Derngate, Nottingham, February 5 2012.

The Goss concerto was performed by Williams at the Royal Festival Hall on June 11 2014; a valedictory performance in the sense that John Williams has decided to severely ‘cut down’ live performances in the future, by all accounts it was an emotional experience for many in the audience.

So, to the music, which is typically eclectic, reflecting John Williams’ diverse musical loves and interests. Also, worth noting, and no John Williams has not gone all John Cage on us, but tracks 6 and 10, which separate the concertos, are simply each 30 seconds of silence, as Williams explains that they are there ‘hopefully to ensure either proper and respectful breathing space or time to press the pause!’ I thought this most admirable and sensible.

From Chile we have the group Inti-Illimani, with whom Williams has collaborated much with over the years. Along with long-time collaborator and multi-instrumentalist Richard Harvey, it was discussed that the group’s chief musical arranger, Horacio Salinas, should ‘recreate’ some of Inti-Illimani’s original music with added orchestral textures. The results are ‘illuminating’ portraits in sound created from works written in the early 80s while in exile from the terrifying regime led by the dictator Augusto Pinochet. The colours painted in sound by instruments such as the kena, played by Richard Harvey are a delightful mix with the guitar, which never dominates or even tries to here, it is all simply part of the joyous sound.


Ross Edwards’ Arafura Dances are influenced by the myriad of inspirations to be found in Australia, and the Pacific Rim. To be a composer from Australia and not be inspired by places such as Arnhem Land and the evolutionarily baffling flora and fauna of that unique continent, would indeed be strange. These pieces have a reflective and delicate beauty that provides a sumptuous setting for the guitar.

Stephen Goss’s Concerto is cast, in the composer’s words ‘in the three traditional movements, but I wanted to keep them stylistically and geographically self-contained.’ North American Jazz, English pastoral nostalgia and Latin American influences roughly cover each movement but what links them is Goss’s wonderful orchestral textures and spaces which allow the guitar access to a position where it positively soars along with some quite sumptuous sounds. The instrumentation of the outer movements reminded me of the vibrancy of Alberto Ginastera’s ballet scores Panambi and Estancias (final movement Malambo). The central ‘heart’ of the concerto as Goss puts it, is indeed ‘elegiac’ and is subtitled a ‘Homage to Elgar’, which one might things would be at odds with the surrounding heat but Elgar’s slow-burning passion is a perfect centre for the fiery outer layers. An outstanding recording, with the guitar of Williams balanced equally with the orchestra, just a gentle, floating reverb, which places the guitar firmly and playfully among its musical cousins.

Highly recommended.
-Tim Panting


HORACIO SALINAS: Danzas Peregrinas. ROSS EDWARDS: Arafura Dances. STEPHEN GOSS: Guitar Concerto.

1) John Williams, guitar, Horacio Durán, charango, Richard Harvey, clarinet, kena, sicus, mandolin, recorder, English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel; Orchestrations by J.M. Tobar and Horacio Salinas; Caroline Dale, cello.

2) John Williams, guitar, English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel

3) John Williams, guitar, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel

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