John Barry,
(Universal Classics, 2001)

Enigma, the soundtrack to the film about the World War II code breakers at Bletchley Park in England, certainly demonstrates John Barry's gift for an atmospheric and absorbing score. The man who put music to many James Bond films and Dances With Wolves provides action, suspense, romance and sorrow in this beautiful score. In addition, "The Black Bottom," "You'll Never Know" and "Dives & Lazarus" are included on the soundtrack, evoking an atmosphere highly reminiscent of that era.

I am fond of Barry's work, readily citing several tracks from the overlooked High Road to China soundtrack as some of my favourite modern instrumental works, but I equally readily admit that Barry's music can be perceived to be repetitive and formulaic. His composition is instantly recognisable by his signature phrasing and distinctive use of the string and wind sections of the orchestra. The characteristic, rich, soaring passages are much in evidence on this CD, ideal for the background of the film. The dark and sombre sound of the strings often instill an uneasy apprehension in the listener, perfect for a film where lives are held in the balance, dependant on the ability of complex, often eccentric geniuses to decipher code. Barry alters mood by using the versatility of the emotive strings to provide an exquisitely ethereal sound, lifting the soul of the listener to a higher plane. The breathy flute also lightens the mood, without transporting one quite so high into the stratosphere.

Enigma is classic John Barry: a big sound for the big screen that transforms into an overwhelming and encompassing sound in one's home. It is an easy album to listen to; depending on the volume and quality of the sound system, it could be almost unobtrusive. Give it your undivided attention, however, and it will reward you with a deep relaxation, the waves of music massaging your spirit, sometimes gently, sometimes with unexpected depth.

My only criticism is that there is no one track which stands out as particularly memorable -- but if you like Barry, you'll like Enigma. One's soothed sensibilities are shocked into reality as if doused in icy water by "The Black Bottom," but its brash and breezy tempo will soon have your feet tapping! The only non-instrumental track, "You'll Never Know," retains an authentic gramophone sound, slightly scratchy and occasionally fuzzy over the lovely mellow vocals -- very in-period. The final track, Vaughan Williams' "Dives & Lazarus," evokes a very English countryside -- pastoral and placid, calm after the storm, and rounds the album off beautifully.

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 18 August 2002

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