Film music LSO / John Williams Barbican, London

Renewing his fruitful relationship with the LSO, begun in the late Seventies with the recording sessions for Star Wars, John Williams padded on to the podium for Friday's Barbican concert of his film music like a benign schoolmaster. His anti-authoritarian conducting style clearly put the band at its ease: Williams directed fast marches in half-time with one hand in his pocket, and at one point (during the makeweight Cowboys Overture) actually appeared to be riding an imaginary horse. The downside of this relaxedness was that dramatic tutti stabs were never tight enough, and at slower tempi the ensemble became decidedly ragged.

The first item was not film music at all, but the official theme for the Atlanta Olympics, Summon the Heroes. Williams summoned up the usual suspects - brass (clambering as usual up and down the harmonic series) and martial snare - for his grandiloquent opening. But as well as a particularly rich horn-trumpet psychomachia, there were some lovely modal passages for skittering woodwind, and a Copland-esque angular spaciousness throughout. Intelligently rousing stuff.

The rest of the evening - essentially a Greatest Hits compilation - divided into two sorts of piece. Either hearing the music unencumbered by zapping lasers and dialogue is a revelation or (notably in the extracts from JFK) you get the feeling Williams was simply stuffing time with notes. But when it's good, it's terrific. Williams's harmonies are surprisingly adventurous: Princess Leia's theme from Star Wars, for instance, has some astringent whole-tone counterpoint under the naive melody. And he avoids stodginess in the epically noisy sci-fi marches with closely interwoven textures - theme and accompaniment playing exclusively in the syncopated interstices left by one another, teasing, until they coincide at the climax.

As a reprieve from the fortissimo showboating of Star Wars and Superman, an excerpt from Close Encounters of the Third Kind offered some of Williams's most imaginative colourings, with weird tuba glissandi and a twittering piccolo intersecting dissonantly with sighing cello runs, until the film's five-note leitmotif is smuggled in beautifully with a solo oboe over sostenuto violins. Later on, the spare, romantic lines of the Schindler's List theme proved Williams's underexploited talent for sensitive orchestration, but the solo violin played with such terrible, drama-queen vibrato (the antithesis of Itzhak Perlman's restrained performance on the film's soundtrack) that the effect was almost ruined.

After a final burst of ET, came two encores: the first a bluesy theme from Sugarland Express, which unfortunately came down to straight musicians trying to play jazz; the second the irresistible Raiders of the Lost Ark theme - hugely exciting, and utterly shameless when it modulates up a tone for the finale. The LSO shook off its unusual torpor: the horns, which had sounded tired and inaccurate most of the evening, gave their all. A raucously appreciative capacity crowd saved its biggest cheer for last.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones