The Last Valley - Silva rerecording reviews

Tuesday, 01 January 2002 14:28

One of John Barry's very finest scores brought to stirring, vivid life in this new digital recording. It could be said that in some ways this is a companion piece to his Oscar winning The Lion in Winter (1968), but for me this work is even stronger in stylistic and melodic terms, but whatever your own opinion, it is undoubtedly a bold and striking soundtrack that cries out for attention and appreciation.

Right from 'The Last Valley-Main Titles (part 1)' with its sparkling Germanic choral sound, the entire score is a powerhouse of both grand operatic gravitas and sonorous beauty. While elements of this main theme can be found on many cues such 'The Rape of Khutal' and in more subdued form on 'Vogel Leaves the Valley' (one of several previously unrecorded cues included), it really does the composer great credit the way he varies his interpretations and conjures some remarkably powerful variations, particularly 'The Plague Pit', where guttural male voices lead into a tremendously affecting descending motif and the dynamic 'The Villagers Fight for the Shrine' which packs a real wallop. To contrast this moody material Barry counters with 'Entry into The Last Valley', an expressive cue in his best sensitive, romantic manner and this represents another significant theme which he uses tellingly on the low- key 'Vogel's Dream-The Last Valley' and more assertively on 'Departure From Rhinefelden' and finally utilises both of the major motifs in 'Death of Captain/End Title', where a soft, almost mournful recalling of 'Entry into the Valley' segues into a restrained version of the 'Main Title'.

Among the previously unavailable cues that appear, 'Why Not Winter in the Valley?/The Death of Eskesen' is appealingly subtle, as is the moving 'Captain Meets Erica/Winning Erica'. Add to this a number of acapella choir pieces like 'An Evening Song', 'A Children's Song' and the wonderfully evocative 'The Giving Away of the Women-An Offertory Chant' and you have a score with more than its fair share of variety and invention. And when I add that there are a number of other tracks I haven't named that are very worthy of recognition, it becomes clear that this is a rounded work of great depth and merit.

All in all, an extraordinary accomplishment by the composer, superbly performed and orchestrated, brimming with emotion and vitality, darkness and light, wonder and tragedy. If only John Barry had the opportunity to write music such as this again. That's one dream we all should share.

Mark Hockley


Gary S. Dalkin adds:

- In 1965 John Barry composed the music for Bryan Forbes screen version of James Clavell's novel, King Rat, while between 1964 and 1968 Barry scored four Michael Caine films Zulu (1964), The Ipcress File (1965), The Wrong Box (1966) and Deadfall (1968). In 1970 Clavell wrote and directed The Last Valley , which was not only to be the filmmaker's last work as a director before devoting himself to his much more successful literary career, but the final Michael Caine film which Barry has scored to date.

The film is a dark, complex philosophical story of war and adventure involving a group of mercenaries who find shelter is an isolated, peaceful valley during the Thirty Years War. It was one of the last of the 70mm films of the 1950's-1960's, the commercial failure of this and several other titles such as Ryan's Daughter (1970) killing the format. This was filmmaking on the grand scale, with Barry being given a full six months to write his score. It shows, the complete work being among the most thematically rich in all of Barry's canon, this album presenting a new recording of all the music featured on the original soundtrack LP, plus an additional approximately twenty minutes of material. Indeed, hearing this album now I have little hesitation in saying this is a work to rank only a little way behind Barry's masterpiece, The Lion in Winter (1968).

That however may be because in a sense The Last Valley is "The Lion in Winter Part II". It is again a boldly dramatic, Gothic work filled with rich choral writing - women's voices for the peace of the valley, the male chorus for the mercenaries and the war - with no less than six separate choral settings. The main title itself is a stunning martial/choral setting, full of menace and portents of things to come as the male voices take over from wordless female chorus to intone a 17th Century German lament over relentless snare. Elsewhere there is a "A Christmas Song", "A Children's Song", settings of two liturgical texts and a fragment, "The Plague Pit". Between these the lyrical beauty of "Vogel's Dream - The Last Valley", complete with as lovely a melody as Barry has written contrasts with some of the most savage music the composer has written. Against this, there are familiar 1960's Barry touches, some of the string writing, especially when accompanied by tuned percussion, is reminiscent of the early Bond scores.

Even those who don't like Barry, who consider him merely an elevated "pop" composer or someone capable of little more than lush string arrangements should find much to appreciate in this exception score. The time the composer had to work on this music is strikingly evident compared to Silva Screen's simultaneously re-recorded score for Robin and Marion (1976), a work Barry had to produce in three weeks. For Barry fans it is essential, doubly so for anyone such as myself who particularly consider The Lion in Winter to be so exceptional. The recording and performances are excellent. Incidentally, Silva Screen have also released a new recording of The Lion in Winter, coupled with a suite from Mary Queen of Scots (1971).

Gary S. Dalkin

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