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The Quiller Memorandum
  • Composed by John Barry
  • Intrada / 2012 / 35:12

A Cold War spy thriller, The Quiller Memorandum starred George Segal as Agent Quiller, sent by his boss Alec Guinness to get the better of Oktober, played by Max von Sydow.  With its outstanding cast (and a screenplay by no less than Harold Pinter), it’s a surprise the film is not better-known today.  With four Bond films and The Ipcress File already behind him, there was no doubting that John Barry was already espionage movies’ go-to composer.  Remarkably, he managed to find another different approach with Quiller, writing a fairly simple score based around a single outstanding theme.  That theme, “Wednesday’s Child”, is a belter even by this composer’s standards, thrown through numerous variations as it appears in nearly all of the album’s 13 tracks.

Most wonderful of all is the version sung beautifully by the peerless Matt Monro, whose velvety vocal somehow conveys an incredible sadness and loneliness despite being of such a pretty melody.  Within the score, Barry uses the theme in countless guises – a sumptuous strings-and-flute version serving as the love theme, a cimbalom version adding unmistakable 60s swagger, a much subtler arrangement serving as the backdrop to some of the action/suspense sequences, and most distinctively a few versions featuring a whistling effect which had the potential to go horribly wrong but which actually sounds very atmospheric and eerie.  The score does venture towards Bond territory for some of those moments, with occasional touches of xylophone or bass flute bringing to mind the distinctive sounds of 007.  There’s one set piece, the strident and rousing “Autobahn March”, which is far from typical Barry and quite unlike the rest of the score, but which provides a nice break in the middle of the score and is actually very enjoyable on its own terms.  (The muzak source music arrangement of “Downtown” fares less well.)  It’s a short score, but one that leaves quite an impression, and the good news is that the sound quality of Intrada’s new release is great; they couldn’t add any material to the LP (also issued many years ago by Varèse on CD, but which has been unavailable for a long time) but it’s a great album.  Essential purchase for Barry fans.  **** |

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  1. Geoff Leonard (Reply) on Friday 3 August, 2012 at 09:11

    Quality review for a quality product, James!