There are, it has to be said, plenty of John Barry compilations available covering most parts of his career. However, Silva Screen appear to be trying to make all of these redundant with their mega 4CD set dedicated to his film music from Zulu to Mercury Rising and actually shows him to be a much more versatile composer than many people give him credit for. Yes, there are the Bond scores and there are his broad as the hills Oscar winning efforts, but many of the more off the wall entries are just as interesting and worth hearing.
I once, perhaps rather rashly, decided that there were three types of film John Barry scored: Bond films, Oscar Winning efforts for pretty decent films and everything else which consisted of mainly very bad films. Looking through the listing here, those three types are generally reasonable, but amongst the lesser known films there are still some fairly decent films such as Walkabout and some fun 60's sub-Bond thrillers. Whatever the case for the films, the scores are of course the main focus and these obscure titles are often excellent. A personal favourite is The Last Valley which isn't commercially available, but the sturdy choral writing which echoes, but has a more epic ruggedness than, The Lion in Winter is extremely memorable in every respect. Other minor gems include the Romance for Guitar and Orchestra from Deadfall which I believe functioned as both source music and underscore as the drama unfolded during a concert as is given a good treatment here.
Of course the Bond films all receive their few minutes and not all just orchestral versions of the songs, although some of these orchestra only versions - such as You Only Live Twice - work very well indeed. Other Barry classics such as Midnight Cowboy, Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa, Born Free and so on and so forth are all accounted for in good performances. Of course there are some great scores to truly lousy pictures, perhaps the two most notable in the Barry filmography are Raise the Titanic and The Black Hole. The former receives a lengthy suite which includes some of the jauntier music together with the noble main theme. The Black Hole is Barry in pseudo John Williams mode, at least the opening fanfare suggests that kind of style even if the undulating main theme is much more akin to Bernard Herrmann. It's interesting that while the similarities with those composers exist, you could still never mistake them for John Barry.
From the swinging sixties music that made his name to the epic and romantic music he is now most associated with, John Barry is something of a film music icon. His associations with the Bond films (which are also represented by a slightly awkward and unnecessary rendition of Monty Norman's theme - originally arranged by John Barry - rounding out the fourth disc) together with his high Oscar profile still make him hugely popular. This set actually rejuvenated my love of his music greatly. I liked it well enough before, but listening to famous Bond theme after famous Bond inter mixed with his other hugely memorable efforts and hearing his style change gradually through the years is a truly marvellous musical experience. To those who rate Barry as just 'strings and horn chords' as one of my friends once described his music, the discovery that this makes up a fraction of his output will possibly come as a surprise. I suspect that if you have Silva's three (I think) other Barry compilations you'll have pretty much everything here, but if not, a fantastic and well balanced sample of the best of Barry's output from 1963 to 1998. A splendid set from Silva that is as comprehensive as a single compilation is ever likely to get and with the best of playing from the City of Prague Philharmonic and Crouch End Festival Chorus, thus highly recommended in every respect.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad