Howard SHORE (b.1946)
The Lord of the Rings Symphony (1999-2003) [115.57]
Kaitlyn Lusk (vocalist)
21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Ludwig Wicki
rec. live, KKL Lucerne, Switzerland, 12-13 February 2011.
Detailed track-listing at end of review
HOWE RECORDS HWR 1005 [45.32 + 70:25]
I was once asked to write an article on the subject of ‘The Symphony and Film Music.’ I will confess I did not welcome this commission. Either the publishers had no idea of the purpose and nature of film music which is hardly conducive to a formal musical style but more necessarily attuned to the exigencies of the screenplay or they might have been inferring an attitude only too common among the musical establishment, that of looking down on the genre of film music. Alas, this attitude has not completely disappeared, I fear.
The classical description of the Symphony could hardly fit the informal, patchwork and more rhapsodic nature of film music. Film music cannot be strait-jacketed. It cannot conform to the architecture of the Sonata; to the classical symphony’s first movement’s exposition, development and recapitulation pattern. Admittedly, the looser form of the Late Romantic Symphony comes closer to film music. There have been flirtations between the two genres. One of the most obvious examples is Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica which began life as the music for the 1948 British film Scott of the Antarctic. Note the title ‘Sinfonia’, not Symphony, as though the composer might have been reluctant to designate it full symphonic status - in fact, at the time there was discussion whether it was a symphony or a symphonic poem. This same argument could justifiably be applied to this The Lord of the Rings Symphony - a collection of symphonic poems rather than a symphony? While we are discussing such matters it is worth remembering that cross-fertilisation between the symphonic and film music genres can work the other way too. Take, for example, Nino Rota’s Symphony on a Love Song (composed in 1947 and included on Chandos CHAN 10090 - review); the composer mined this for music for two films: The Glass Mountain (1949) and Visconti’s masterpiece, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) (1962).
Interestingly, the booklet notes for The Lord of the Rings Symphony states that the conductor John Mauceri encouraged Howard Shore to construct the work from nearly twelve hours of music written for The Lord of the Rings films. Mauceri and Shore worked together on fusing the scores into the six movements that reflect the three books (each in two parts) of Tolkien’s celebrated creation. Mauceri is a well-known champion and recorder of film music and in a splendid TV documentary for Artsworld, some years ago, argued persuasively that film music should be respected just as any other musical genre.
To this 2 CD set itself. The most striking and memorable themes for the whole trilogy of films occur in the two movements that comprise The Fellowship of the Ring. The opening ‘The Prophesy’ is a grandiose offering featuring the choir and huge orchestra and includes the main theme; probably the most memorable motif of the whole edifice. Immediately following is another theme that is heard numerous times – that is the rather endearing, bucolic music for ‘Concerning Hobbits’. Much of the rest of the first movement concerns the darker or heroic elements of the first book of Tolkien’s saga. This might be said of the whole work, so such darkness and overwhelming noise can seem unremitting. Thankfully, movement Two thankfully begins in relative tranquillity and introspection for ‘Many Meetings’ – one of the most memorable stretches of music in the whole symphony. Calmer, exotic music, too, is in evidence for the Shangri-la-like Lothlórien - surely one of the most magical creations of both books and films – in which Kaitlyn Lusk, a singer with an extraordinary vocal range, shines in more senses than one.
What follows through the following movements are mostly variations and embellishments of the music of the opening two movements, according it a symphonic stature of sorts. The music for The Two Towers and The Return of the King is striking sonically and emotionally and dramatically involving – the sheer force of this music from such a large ensemble is prodigious. However, for this reviewer, few motifs really stand out. Nonetheless, there are numerous interesting and arresting moments such as the slimy, slithering figures for ‘The Taming of Sméagol’. The whole impresses by the remarkable colour range of the orchestration.
This is not a work to be absorbed at one sitting. It may impress as a whole in the ambience of the concert hall - it seems that the Symphony has received over 140 performances world-wide - but for home listening I would suggest that the movements are best appreciated in separate listening sessions. Appropriately the world premiere of Shore’s The Lord of the Rings Symphony was given in Wellington, by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by the composer. The film was largely shot in New Zealand.
One of the most irritating things about this set is the omission of sub-tracks indications. By this I mean that unless you are completely addicted to the music and its marriage to the on-screen action, there must surely be some doubt as to which episode’s music is being heard. Take Movement One, for instance. I was never sure when I was listening to ‘The Shadow of the Past’ or ‘A Short Cut to Mushrooms’; never mind ‘The Old Forest’ music.
I am rather uncertain about the appellation, Symphony but this is a powerful, colourful, noisy work and certainly one that you can’t expect to sleep through.
Powerful, colourful and noisy.
Movement One - The Fellowship of the Ring: The Prophesy; Concerning Hobbits; The Shadow of the Past; A Short Cut to Mushrooms; The Old Forest; A Knife in the Dark
Movement Two – The Fellowship of the Ring: Many Meetings; The Ring Goes South; A Journey in the Dark; The Bridge of Khazadûm; Lothlórien; Gandalf’s Lament; Farewell to Lorien; The Great River; The Breaking of the Fellowship.
Movement Three - The Two Towers: Foundations of Stone; The Taming of Sméagol; The Riders of Rohan; The Black Gate is Closed; Evenstar; The White Rider; Treebeard; The Forbidden Pool.
Movement Four – The Two Towers: The Hornburg; Forth Eorlingas; Isengard Unleashed; Gollum’s Song.
Movement Five – The Return of the King Hope and Memory; The White Tree; The Steward of Gondor; Cirith Ungol; Andúril
Movement Six – The Return of the King: The End of All Things; The Return of the King; The Grey Havens; Into the West.