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Monsters from the Id

In CinemaScope - The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

"And now for a nutritional interlude. Yuck, the Fritos are antiquated."
Purple Snorklewacker (Bloom County)
happy birthday

...and nobody forget to give me my word, thanks...

"Is this an audience... a good night hug with kisses... or an ambush?"
Théoden (Lord of the Rings)
While John Barry got into scoring films through the composition arrangment of "The James Bond Theme" and his subsequent scoring of the bulk of that Eon film series, over the course of the 60s he broke away from being typecast as a composer of jazzy adventure scores with such works as Zulu (1964) and King Rat (1965), but it was The Lion In Winter, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Score of 1968 (his second after Born Free, 1966) that truly opened the door for the latter portion of his film composing career. Barry soon became a name associated more with character-oriented dramas, winning subsequent Oscars for such films as Out of Africa (1985) and Dances With Wolves (1990) and being nominated for Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) and Chaplin (1992).

The Lion In Winter was the first among a string of costume dramas Barry scored, featuring his trademark long-form themes and unique (and instantly recognizable) orchestration. Barry's touch became a mark of class; the films included here were all prestige pictures, with outstanding casts often providing some of their best work; Katherine Hepburn won an Oscar for her performance in The Lion In Winter and Peter O'Toole got a nomination (the film also introduced Anthony Hopkins) and Vanessa Redgrave received a nomination for Mary, Queen of Scots. Michael Caine still counts The Last Valley as one of the best films he'd been involved with. Even the mixed reviews that Robin and Marian initially received have gradually given way over time to an affection for the film as it only becomes more and more poignant over the years as its two principle leads, Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, recede further and further into the past, in many ways becoming as much legends as the characters they play.

Albums of the original soundtrack recordings of all of these scores are now available. I personally have owned The Lion In Winter and The Last Valley on LP for many years, but the former was released in the mid-90s on CD (Sony Legacy CK 66133) and the latter recently (Intrada Special Collection 46), and the album version of Mary, Queen of Scots has also been at long last released (Intrada Special Collection 59). The original score tracks of Robin and Marian were put out only a few months ago (Prometheus PCR 522), but, while I was certainly grateful to have it at long last, I was disappointed by the sonics of that disc. Indeed, even the otherwise fine sounding Lion In Winter had a few moments in the loud passages where the sound would break up ("Media Vita In Morte Sumus" being the most obvious example).

However, Silva re-recorded several of these scores in a row several years ago, the complete score for The Lion in Winter with a suite from Mary, Queen of Scots (Silva Screen SSD1131), the complete score for The Last Valley (SSD 1133), and the world premiere release of the complete score of Robin and Marian (SSD 1134).¹ I had very much enjoyed their recording of Barry's Raise the Titanic (Silva Screen SSD 1102), and so I purchased Robin and Marian specifically because the issues I had with the original score tracks, and figured as long as I was doing that, I may as well check out their recordings of The Lion In Winter and The Last Valley as well, particularly the latter, as I often considered it to be one of Barry's most intricate scores. I found the recordings to have been quite well-done, with Nicholas Raine, who was a former orchestrator for Barry, providing the correct sound and evincing excellent performances. I was, I must admit, floored by the recording of The Last Valley, which not only opened out some of the choral portions (not being recorded to fit the film), but also by the hypnotic quality of many of the tracks not included on the soundtrack album. I also incorporated two performances from the suite of The Lion In Winter material from Cinema Choral Classics (Silva Screen SLKD 6015).

The concept for this album, a collection of scores from films with a medieval setting by a particular composer, did not, in fact, originate as a project of John Barry music. This idea came to me as I was listening to the various recordings and came together quite quickly, but I was initially canvassing scores for another composer, and the resulting disc will be a companion piece to this one. Barry has a distinctive style to begin with, but there is something about these scores that is unique, even among his own oeuvre. The result is a disc of sweet melodies and eerie passages, fiery choral passages and calm interludes that I challenge anybody to listen to and not come away with humming at least one of Barry's themes.

Special thanks to ehowton, who helped me with the disc artwork.

Music From

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