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ENIGMA – John Barry

enigmaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A new John Barry score is a rare thing indeed in this day and age. As one of the all-time greats of film music, with a career that stretches back to the 1950s, the quality of Barry’s work and his influence on the genre as a whole cannot be understated. However, in recent years, Barry’s musical oeuvre has become so familiar and – dare I say it – predictable, that every score sounds like the last. Playing By Heart, his last score, broke the mould somewhat by embracing a distinctive type of moody jazz, but everything else has been much of the same. Enigma is no different.

A very British film directed by Michael Apted from the best-selling novel by Robert Harris, Enigma is set in rural England during World War II, and stars Dougray Scott as Tom Jericho, a celebrated mathematician and code-breaker who, after a period of mental illness and depression, is called back by the British Government to the central intelligence field office at Bletchley Park. Tom’s expertise is needed in cracking a vital code being used by the Germans to co-ordinate U-Boat movement in the North Atlantic – codes which, Tom believes, are being leaked to them by a spy in the British camp, and which may or may not have something to do with his former beau Claire (Saffron Burrows), who has now gone missing. With the help of bookish clerk Hester (Kate Winslet) and vaguely sinister secret service agent Wigram (Jeremy Northam), Tom embarks on his dual quest of breaking the code and finding the mole, and finding out what happened to Claire, before the tide of the war changes in the favor of the Nazis.

You can almost guess what John Barry’s main Enigma theme sounds like before you even hear it – especially if you have heard Mercury Rising, or Swept from the Sea, or any of his dramatic scores of the last ten years. A warm, circular violin melody on a bed of grinding cellos and plucked basses; low sustained notes on trumpets and horns, repeated ad nauseum. Barry has a specific sound, and his standing in the field means that he has no need to change it, but in an era when composers are criticized for having too much of a static style, Barry always seems to get away with it.

It is presented in whole during the ‘Main Title’, and almost every cue thereafter has some fragment of the main theme within it, from the piano-led ‘The Quarry’, ‘Is That What Happened?’ and ‘Tom Goes to Cottage’, to the gossamer-delicate ‘Simply Wonderful’ (which reminds me of the theme from Indecent Proposal), and the conclusive duo of ‘London 1946’ and the ‘End Credits’, which effectively summarize the most important moments of the score as a whole.

In the action and suspense music, there is more than a hint of Bond in there, especially in the repetitive nature of the cells of music, and his choices of orchestration – woodblocks, low timpani and high, ragged woodwind performances above the usual mass of strings. ‘Police Chase’ is a slightly more urgent and vibrant action cue, built once again upon repeated string figures and low brass stabs, some of which are repeated in later tracks such as ‘Trip to Beaumanor’, and the piercing ‘The Train’, and the morbid ‘Puck Dies’, with its special emphasis on brooding horns. ‘The Convoy’ is one of the best tracks on the entire album, building up a real sense of motion and ominous threat over the course of its 5 and a half minutes.

I have a feeling that, over the next few years, John Barry will gradually disappear from the film music scene, content with the knowledge that his important legacy will live on for generations. Lest we forget, Barry will be 70 next year, and his health has not been good: his meager output over the last couple of years (the non-soundtrack albums The Beyondness of Things and Eternal Echoes notwithstanding) in many ways illustrates that he will only take on projects which truly pique his interest. At the risk of sounding like the writer of a premature obituary, I hope Barry goes out on top. Enigma is a good and enjoyable score, but his style is beginning to sound a little stale.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (3:41)
  • Where Does One Pee? (1:21)
  • Police Chase (1:16)
  • The Quarry (2:50)
  • Tom Explains Enigma (1:23)
  • Is That What Happened? (4:25)
  • Wigram Arrives (1:39)
  • The Convoy (5:36)
  • Waiting for Signals (2:46)
  • Tom Goes to Cottage (1:26)
  • She Moved On (2:06)
  • Simply Wonderful/Finding Crib (1:53)
  • Trip to Beaumanor (0:59)
  • At Beaumanor (1:21)
  • The Train (2:40)
  • Goodbye to Hester (3:00)
  • Puck Dies (1:17)
  • London 1946 (2:26)
  • End Credits (4:58)
  • The Black Bottom (written by DeSylva/Brown/Henderson, performed by Bunny Berigan and his Orchestra) (2:54)
  • You’ll Never Know (written by Warren, performed by Anne Shelton with Ambrose and his Orchestra) (3:23)
  • Dives & Lazarus (written by Ralph Vaughan Williams, performed by The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth) (2:49)

Running Time: 56 minutes 43 seconds

Decca 467-864-2 (2001)

Music composed and conducted by John Barry. Performed by The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam. Orchestrations by Nic Raine. Recorded and mixed by John Richards. Edited by Clif Kohlweck. Mastered by Paschal Byrne. Album produced by John Barry.

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