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OUT OF AFRICA
Sweeping romantic classic
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1997 Varese Sarabande Records.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
Sydney Pollack's classic romantic weepie Out of Africa was one of 1985's most popular films, audiences really falling for Meryl Streep and Robert Redford as Karen Blixen and Denys Hatton, whose complicated early 20th century relationship in Kenya formed the basis of Blixen's popular memoir. The film won seven Oscars - including Best Picture and Best Director - and the fourth of Barry's five Academy Awards. Pollack's previous six films had been scored by Dave Grusin, so it was a little surprising to find Barry on board (perhaps Grusin couldn't do the film due to other commitments), but he was the perfect choice - he was the master of scoring romantic tales like this.
Pollack had wanted the composer to base his score around indigenous African music, which seems truly daft if you've actually seen the film, but Barry was quick to persuade him that the right approach wasn't to score the stunning scenery (which speaks for itself) but the feelings of the two protagonists. His main theme ("I Had a Farm") is a romantic classic, one of the most frequently-recorded pieces in film music history, and not without reason. It seems to sweep majestically, like a great bird soaring over an endless expanse of beauty.
The first of the film's love themes is introduced in "Alone on the Farm", a beautiful melody for flute; the next comes in "Karen and Denys", a fuller orchestral piece with all the trademark romantic beauty we have come to associate with Barry's music; and the third is introduced in "Have You Got a Story For Me?", a stunning piano theme enough to melt any heart. Only Barry would bless a film with three such outstanding love themes, any of which would stand out in most composers' careers. Perhaps the finest presentation of any of them comes in "I'm Better At Hello", with the flute theme receiving a stunning treatment.
The thematic material doesn't stop there, though - "Karen's Journey Starts" presents another truly soaring piece, before turning into what is the score's only real concession to local elements, for the percussion-dominated second half. The film's most famous sequence also receives its finest piece of music, with "Flying Over Africa" presenting a version of the main theme accompanied by an ethereal chorus. Out of Africa is one of Barry's most beautiful scores. This re-recording from Varese Sarabande features the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely and is note-perfect, featuring a wonderful recording quality. (And the front cover is surely the most beautiful to have graced any soundtrack album.) It's therefore my recording of choice - the original has surprisingly poor sound for a 1985 recording, though it does have a vocal version of one of the love themes, "The Music of Goodbye". An essential release.