Fans of John Williams' sweeping scores to the nine Star Wars films released between 1977 and 2019 must have the patience of a Jedi Knight. While archival-quality expansions of the original trilogy's soundtracks were released in 1997 for the series' 20th anniversary and special edition reissues, the balance of the other six scores remain mostly preserved in their original album forms. In 2018, the series' new owner, The Walt Disney Company, sort of went back to formula on the original and prequel soundtracks, rebuilding and remixing those original LP programs for CD and digital. (This means you can hear less on streaming than you could on CD 10 to 15 years ago, including cues not present in the revised editions of the film on Blu-ray and Disney+.)
While we wait to someday report on a new, more comprehensive reissue campaign, we can at least praise the Vocalion label, who recently reissued one of the first major Star Wars re-recordings with a brand-new four-channel surround mix on hybrid SACD.
The recording in question comes from Charles Gerhardt and The National Philharmonic Orchestra, whose reputation preceded this collection. Gerhardt had steadily conducted volumes of classical music and orchestral favorites for RCA Victor and Reader's Digest in the 1960s and formally incorporated his go-to session musicians in London as the National Philharmonic several years later. In the 1970s, Gerhardt recorded a stellar series of classic film scores with that ensemble, from composers like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, and others.
The National Philharmonic's take on Star Wars, which also featured a generous suite from Williams' score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind that same year, was arguably the best re-recording of either score on the market. (A similar re-recording of both scores, albeit with less music, was also released by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1978 on the London Records label.)
The Gerhardt recording, originally released on RCA Red Seal, is notable for both its quality and its quantity. It remains a triumphant favorite as not only a stellar re-recording that nearly matched the power of Williams' original recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra (already available as a best-selling double album) but with simply more music than Mehta's version. Gerhardt recognized that Williams' scores to both motion pictures were towering accomplishments. In the original liner notes, he wrote, "A contemporary score in the Classic Film Scores series? Can something be classic and contemporary at the same time? In the current misuse of the word 'classic,' perhaps not. We think of classic as something old, lasting, already accepted by several generations, and of having 'classical music' connotations. But classic simply means excellent, cited as a model or standard, and contemporary means of our time, happening right now. These two scores certainly qualify on both counts."
Gerhardt was a friend of Williams; he wrote of first hearing the music of Star Wars in March 1977 as Williams was in London recording it with the London Symphony Orchestra. His affection and respect for the score shone through in his reinterpretation which utilized the original film orchestration for a large orchestra. It gains additional dimension on Vocalion's reissue thanks to label founder Michael J. Dutton's quadraphonic remix on the SACD layer of the disc. The standard CD layer will play the original stereo mix, itself a powerful presentation of Williams' memorable themes. The package includes Gerhardt's original liner notes as well as images of both the Side 1 stereo master tape and the multitracks for the Close Encounters suite. Gerhardt would go on to record similar suites for both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars/Close Encounters of the Third Kind is out now with Vocalion's latest batch of quadraphonic hybrid SACD releases including the 1976 Original Broadway Cast Recording of The Threepenny Opera starring Raul Julia; a James Galway two-fer featuring the famed flautist's collaborations with Henry Mancini and vocalist Cleo Laine (both newly remixed by Dutton); two volumes on one disc of Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops' Greatest Hits of the '70s; Fiedler's recording of William Walton and poet Dame Edith Sitwell's Facade narrated by Tony Randall (The Odd Couple) in new stereo and quad remixes; and Leonard Bernstein and The New York Philharmonic's recordings of Holst's The Planets and Britten's Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes. You'll find order links for the Williams title below.
Charles Gerhardt and The National Philharmonic Orchestra, Star Wars/Close Encounters of the Third Kind (RCA Red Seal LP ARL1 2698, 1978 - reissued Dutton Vocalion CDLK 4642, 2023) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Dutton Vocalion)
Star Wars (John Williams)
- Main Title
- The Little People Work
- Here They Come!
- Princess Leia
- The Final Battle
- The Throne Room and End Title
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (John Williams)
- Barnstorming/Arrival of the Mother Ship/The Pilots' Return/The Visitors/Final Scene