Based upon the novel by author Markus Zusak, the Book Thief is the latest directorial assignment for Liverpool born Brian Percival who has worked steadily mostly on television projects and has become more prominent because of his involvement with DOWNTON ABBEY. In fact I did at one point think that maybe composer John Lunn would have been the director’s choice for this movie his style probably would have been suited to the project, so it was somewhat surprising when Williams was announced as the composer. But anything that Williams is involved with always seems to have quality stamped all over it and this score is certainly no exception. Of course in the content of this latest work one will notice certain similarities to a handful of other works by the composer, most notably some of the style and sound that he achieved within the soundtrack to JANE EYRE is abundantly present, and also there are little quirks of orchestration that shine through within the work that echo his haunting tone poems from SCHINDLERS LIST and it also at times has a wistfulness to it that again evokes Williams scores from past assignments, such as the melancholia from ANGELAS ASHES and even some of the more intimate musical moments of his DRACULA soundtrack. The score for THE BOOK THIEF relies predominantly upon the use of piano and also the string section of the orchestra with little nuances and fleeting enhancement from woodwind, harp and horns, with other sections of the orchestra adding feint underlying support, which although obviously present is in no way overpowering or intruding, the central instrumentation always remaining uppermost in the equation. It is however the piano that for the majority of the time becomes the heart of the score, the instrument creating a subdued and delicate sound that at times can be likened to a flower that is gently unfolding in the warmth of the summer sun, beginning slowly and in an unassuming fashion, but then beautifully blossoming into touching and heartfelt melodies which soon become more pronounced and in their own fragile and tantalizing way are affecting and dominant. This practise mesmerises the listener and totally engrosses them. Set in WWll, THE BOOK THIEF tells the story of a young German girl who is sent to stay with foster parents as the Nazi’s gain a powerful hold on the country and war becomes inevitable. It is via the perspective of the young girl that we see the beginnings of the tragedy that will become what we all know now as the Holocaust. It is her and her foster parent’s understanding and their love of the written word and also her friendship with a Jewish man that assists her to cope with the terrible things that are starting to happen and that she is witnessing. John Williams creates a somewhat frail and uneasy sounding poignancy with his sparing and understated approach but at the same time he manages to purvey a mood that that is hopeful if not tinged with a degree of uncertainty.
The compact disc opens with ONE SMALL FACT, in this we hear piano opening the proceedings as it picks out the central theme from the score, this effective introduction is short lived as strings enter the arena and take on the theme briefly before things slow and finally come to rest with a sprinkling from the piano. Track number two, THE JOURNEY TO HIMMEL STREET is a more solemn sounding piece, with woodwind opening the cue and then passing the duties to piano, the theme which rises throughout the work and will become an accompaniment for the young girl begins to establish itself here even if only briefly. It re-occurs throughout the score at times being underlined by subtle strings or mirrored by plaintive woods and harp. There are a few slightly more up beat moments within the score, track number five, THE SNOW FIGHT for example; this did for me personally evoke memories of TOURISTS ON THE MENU from JAWS, but a less vigorous version of that particular composition. Track number seven, BOOK BURNING is full of tense and dramatic strings, which ooze an anxious and broodingly fearful ambience, this tension can also be heard in track number seventeen, RESCUEING THE BOOK, but the mood soon alters and melts into a more relaxed and melodious affair midway through this piece. THE BOOK THIEF is a score that maybe one will listen to and think yes this is John Williams, is there anything that is new or original here? Well possibly not, but it is a score that tugs at the heart strings and also one that just reaffirms this musical masters talent and his obvious gift for creating eloquent and melodious music that will live forever in the hearts and the minds of his many followers and also will stay with numerous movie goers long after they have left the cinema.