I've always rather liked Barry's High Road to China; I admit that it's not the greatest Barry score ever written, but it is one of his most wholesomely enjoyable. It has a adventurous spirit that even his Bond scores don't really have, but also has that romantic edge that Barry is always so good at conjuring up. It seems that after Tom Sellick lost out to Harrison Ford for Indy Jones, he wanted to be in a film with a similar feeling, but evidently this was not the film to bolster his film career. Of course, if John Barry is scoring the picture and it's not Bond or something dreadfully deep and meaningful then it's probably something of a turkey.
The main theme is introduced in the Main Title and has faint echoes of Out of Africa, being much more of a cerebral theme than might be expected. During the more exciting flying sequences, Barry introduces a suitably energetic motif that illuninates any part of the score it appears. Barry always seems somewhat disinclined to feature any kind of ethnic suggestion in his scores and the same is the case here. Despite the various locales, Barry remains Barry and sticks to providing the dramatic narrative rather than setting the place and allowing the period songs to set the time.
There are quite a few versions of High Road to China, originally limited editions, but this is a promotional release done with Barry's blessing and is the longest release. However, out of the hour on the album, only around half is actually Barry's score. Exactly how much music Barry wrote in total, I am not sure, but what is presented here is more than enough. This version does have the virtue of disctinctly superior sound to the other releases, as well as having the score cues all together in sequence. The source cues are fine enough and thoughtfully left until the end since they would have spoiled the flow of Barry's score quite badly had they been mixed in. I suspect that Barry fans will enjoy this effort which offers few real surprises, but makes for a change from his cerebral efforts of late. Any of the currently available releases are more expensive than regular priced albums, but this version (from Supercollector) is perhaps the best value version currently available. Anyone with a more passing interest in Barry's work will probably be happy with other, easier to find and cheaper albums.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
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