May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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John BARRY Born Free  Frederic Talgorn conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra   VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6084 

Following Body Heat, Out of Africa and Somewhere in Time, this is the fourth in Varese Sarabande's re-recordings of John Barry film scores, and the 11th in the company's Film Classics series. As with previous discs, there is a beautiful cover painting by Matthew Joseph Peak. Born Free, for anyone who really doesn't know, was a phenomenally successful 1966 Columbia release telling the romanticised but factually based African adventure of Joy Adamson (Virginia McKenna), her husband George (Bill Travers) and the lion cub Elsa. So popular was the film that a sequel, Living Free, followed in 1972, and there was even a spin-off TV series. John Barry's score was immensely popular as well, though this may have had a lot to do with the success of the title song sung by Matt Monro, who three years previously had performed Barry's first Bond song, From Russia With Love (1963). Amazingly, the song had at one point been removed from the film, and was only restored when a cover version by Roger Williams became an American No.1 hit. There isn't a version of the song on this new album, which given that the subtitle is 'original motion picture score' is acceptable, but is nevertheless rather strange considering how for many people the song is the score. There is also at least one track which appeared on the original soundtrack album omitted here, the five-minute warthog chase. On the other hand, there are several cues here which were not on the original album, and some which were not in the film either.

There is certainly enough music to be getting on with, for at 53 minutes this is somewhat repetitive. Born Free came out a year after Dr Zhivago, a film which famously dispensed with music of Maurice Jarre's intricately woven score for endless restatements of the catchy-but-ultimately-kitsch Lara's theme. In the wake of that success, it rather sounds like someone suggested to John Barry to go heavy on the main theme, which fine light-romantic melody that it is, does seem to show up at least in part, and sometimes rather briefly or in disguise, in virtually every track.

In retrospect this music clearly foreshadows the more sober plains of Out of Africa (1986), and while Barry employs a more colourful palette here than in many scores from the last two decades, the beginnings of that love-it-or-hate-it lush string dominated sound are evident. 'Holiday with Elsa' suggests the love theme of You Only Live Twice (1967), and other moments, particularly, 'Fight of the Lioness' both echo Thunderball (1965) and anticipate King Kong (1976). 'Elephant Stampede' is a majestic pulsating set-piece, and Barry does manage to wring considerably more interesting variations from that unforgettable main theme than you might imagine, employing lots of tasteful percussion while always remaining resolutely Western in his musical sensibilities. If it doesn't seem backhanded, which it isn't meant to be, this is a nice score; charming, attractive, playful and dreamy; rather like a lion cub, or even Africa itself, as portrayed in the film. It was certainly appealing enough in 1966 to win Barry an Oscar, a Golden Globe and an Ivor Novello award. A classic score then, though one which given its repetition, works better in the film than on disc, here very well served on CD. The modern sound is like silk, and may be too smooth for some who prefer authentic technological inferiority. The marimbas do sometimes get a little lost in the sheen, though the brass stands out magnificently. The performances are polished to the same level of airbrushed perfection.


Gary S. Dalkin



Gary S. Dalkin


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