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ENEMY AT THE GATES: SOUNDTRACK

Whether it is for the family fare of Bicentennial Man, the ultimate blockbuster Titanic, the children’s fable The Grinch, or this intense war drama, James Horner’s scores carry an instantly recognisable imprimatur. The lush, lyrical sound that he educes from an orchestra is probably unmatched in Hollywood, and while he has strayed in recent times to excessive repetition—both between and within scores—Horner also has an uncanny knack of tweaking his technique to serve any genre.

A historical wartime scenario is the most powerful brief Horner has tackled for sometime, though scores such as Braveheart and Courage Under Fire are among his most admired work. It’s intriguing to note that it’s been a mere six years since Braveheart, and there have been some 24 Horner soundtracks in the meantime, with four more due besides this one in the next twelve months.

You have to admire his prolificacy if not a studio system that spawns comprises and inconsistency even from so great a talent.

It doesn’t sound like there were too many compromises here though. Russia-at-war is such a rich terrain for composers—a fierce landscape and a fiercer national pride. The 1812 bout with Napoleon did not for mine inspire Tchaikovsky’s best work, but I’ll permit, perhaps, his most passionate.

No canons here. The passion in Horner’s superb soundtrack is channelled into tension. Of course there’s the signature Horner menace-motiff and the expected romantic theme. As always the latter is memorable and built on simple intervals—in this instance oscillating major thirds. While it doesn’t grab me as one of Horner’s finest, he uses is it as a link to a far more detailed and emotionally complex score than, say, The Perfect Storm.

Possibly it has been a help that it hasn’t been contrived for a song spin-off, which seems to have been obligatory for every Horner soundtrack since Titanic. And never anywhere near as successfully, either commercially or artistically.

This is a purely orchestral work, true to the harrowing milieu of the siege of Stalingrad and cannily overlapping militaristic brass and marching phrases, dramatic choral arrangements and intimate string passages that vibrate with the intensity of human desperation. The individual tales of heroism and tragedy that are microcosms of the larger absurdity of war.

A layered work that rewards multiple listening, this soundtrack marks a welcome return to top form by one of film scoring’s modern luminaries.
Brad Green

Published July 19, 2001

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SOUNDTRACK CLIPS:
Track 7 - The Tractor Factory
Track 12 - Tania

TITLE: Enemy At The Gates

ID: SK 89522

Sony Classical

COMPOSER/CONDUCTOR: James Horner

ALBUM PRODUCER: Simon Rhodes and James Horner

TRACKS: 12

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