Lord of the Rings symphony review
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The Lord of the Rings symphony is an impressive achievement, whether you're a fan or not...
Howard Shore is a masterful composer, having composed scores for some of the biggest movies of all time, including The Fly, Silence of the Lambs, Ed Wood, and Seven, among many others. But in my opinion, his greatest triumph came in December of 2001, when the world was introduced to the film version of The Lord of the Rings. Shore wrote over 12 hours of music for the fantasy epic, and it has since become one of the most popular scores, as well as one of the most recognized, rivaling even John Williams’ scores for the Star Wars films. Shore’s music captures every nuance and essence of the story not only of the films but the books as well. He taps into the various moods and emotions of the characters with exquisite skill, as does he find just the right voice for the many varied lands and cultures represented within the narrative.
It would be no small task to write such a composition, but even less than that would be to try to take that body of work and pick the best and most poignant moments and piece them together for a single symphony. But that is just what Shore did, creating a six-movement symphony, with two movements representing each book/movie. He then chose Maestro Ludwig Wicki of Switzerland to hand-select the musicians and conduct this modern masterpiece. With the help of the 21st Century Orchestra and Chorus, Wicki presented this magnificent work to the world when they performed and recorded it live this last February in Lucerne Switzerland, with the World Premiere being held this last September 4 on Bavarian Radio. According to Shore, “Over the past four years he has perfected this music in Lucerne, Switzerland. His precision and supreme musicianship is evident throughout the recording. I congratulate him on his success and thank him for his masterful approach in bringing this score to life.”
The music here is already known if you’ve seen the films, but when presented in this condensed form, it’s as if it were brand new again. Shore’s true talent is seen in how seamlessly he fits all of the separate pieces together into the six movements, sounding as though they had always been one. According to Shore, “J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is very close to my heart. I have great respect for his writing and share the values he weaves into these stories of courage and honor, friendship and sacrifice. I love the inner aspect of his writing, the detail of the relationships, and his observance of nature.” In addition to the orchestra is the chorus, aided by brilliant soloists who perform in the many languages of Tolkien’s saga. Also featured is soloist Kaitlyn Lusk, a young lady who made her major orchestral debut with the Baltimore Symphony at the age of 14. She sings several pieces, as well as the end titles songs from each film, including the Academy Award-winning song “Into the West”. Her beautiful voice is perfectly matched to the material.
Shore has reached in and taken the real essence of the story, and translated it into a musical tapestry. In “Concerning Hobbits”, he portrays the simple lives of the Hobbits with playful, lilting strings, and then can give us dark, looming evil with low brass and strings with pieces like “The Bridge of Khazad-Dun” or “The Black Gate is Closed”. His main theme for the Fellowship themselves is a triumphant anthem, trumpets blaring the call of the heroes. “The End of all Things” shows the finish of the quest, and the true respect and friendship that exists between Sam and Frodo, while “The Riders of Rohan” has an almost military feel to it, a representation of brotherhood, with a touch of native strings and horns, giving a Norse feel to it, with warm, earthy tones. In songs where Gollum/Smeagol is framed, Shore plays both the underlying deceit and the infinite sadness of the character. He cannot be trusted, and yet desires nothing more than to be loved, even if that love comes from his precious ring. There is an almost mystical quality to the selections dealing with Elves, where he seems to capture the magic and majesty of the ethereal beings. The soundscape changes so frequently, even within movements, and yet, it all works when placed side-by-side. You go from heroic highs to dark, devilish lows, and each piece captures the emotion of the characters present in each scene. What’s more, it’s as though you can feel the emotions along with the characters, that’s how deep Shore’s score hits. You feel the respect and camaraderie of the fellowship, you understand Gollum’s hatred and self-loathing, you grasp the mistrust of Denethor II, the Steward of Gondor, who fears losing his position to Aragorn’s claim to the throne, as well as his love of his son Boromir and hatred of son Faramir, misplaced as that hatred is. You go through the wide range of emotions felt by Theoden, who is freed from Saruman, then left to see what has become of his people while he was under the White Wizard’s spell.
This is one of those records that will hit on many levels for many people. Fans of The Lord of the Rings movies will enjoy this, as will fans of the books, as the music so fits the narrative perfectly. This will also be of particular interest to lovers of instrumental music, as it’s the perfect album to put on for whatever activities you have planned for the day. The music here is universal, and can be enjoyed by anyone, not just fans of the films or books. Indeed, I would recommend this album to anyone, as it really is a pleasurable listen.
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