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Howard Shore: The Lord Of The Rings Symphony

Release Date: 09/13/2011 
Label:  Howe Records   Catalog #: 1005   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Howard Shore
Performer:  Kaitlyn Lusk
Conductor:  Ludwig Wicki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  21st Century Symphony Orchestra21st Century Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHORE Lord of the Rings Symphony Ludwig Wicki, cond; Kaitlyn Lusk (voc); 21st Century SO & Ch HOWE 1005 (2 CDs: 115:57) Live: Lucerne 2/12-13/2011

Howard Shore composed nearly 12 hours of music for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This Lord of the Rings Symphony lasts about 115 minutes. Another way of putting it is that Shore’s “symphony” is longer than Mahler’s Third, Bruckner’s Eighth, Messiaen’s Read more Turangalîla , and Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder , and still contains only one-sixth of the music for LOTR . For a detailed discussion of Shore’s music, I refer you to my reviews of the three complete individual scores available on separate deluxe Reprise albums, each containing three CDs plus a DVD-Audio version of the entire scores. Suffice to say that Shore’s scores emphasize, perhaps more clearly than any other example, the fact that great film music does not necessarily provide an equally great listening experience on an audio CD or in the concert hall. Shore was previously known for his music for relatively small, darkly colored dramas (such as Silence of the Lambs ). He was in fact a surprise choice as the composer for LOTR . Shore’s music works very well for the films and adds immeasurably to their dramatic impact. He totally succeeds in enhancing the grandeur inherent in director Peter Jackson’s stunning visual images, and most important, provides the trilogy with an easily identifiable musical signature. But Shore also had to support the trilogy’s pompous acting, stilted dialogue, and glacial pace. This inevitably contributed to hours of densely orchestrated, slowly evolving crescendos and decrescendos that end up being mind-numbingly dull for many listeners as a pure listening experience. You would have to be a totally committed LOTR freak or a masochist to sit through even one of the complete scores at a single setting.

This kind of shortened presentation, if done well, would therefore seem to be an ideal way to hear the music for LOTR , even for Shore zealots and LOTR fanboys. The title Lord of the Rings Symphony is a bit grandiose, though. This smoothly edited collection of cues is certainly not a symphony from a structural standpoint. There is little or no development of the copious thematic material. The Lord of the Rings Symphony is, in fact, a six-part (or movement) suite of excerpts arranged from the music of the three films. As such, it works reasonably well as it provides an extensive sampling of Shore’s music that should satisfy everyone but the most insatiable completists. In a collection like this, no one will be completely happy with what is included or omitted. My principal complaint (as in my reviews of the individual scores) is that Shore again missed the opportunity to conclude his magnum opus with a grand orchestral summation of his thematic material. Instead, the whole thing ends anticlimactically with a sappy song (“Into the West”) followed by a perfunctory Wagnerian orchestral postlude quoting the Rhine motif from the Ring , presumably as an homage to Wagner and his influence on the whole LOTR project. This only serves to emphasize that Shore is no Wagner by any stretch of the imagination.

The 21st Century Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1999 primarily for the purpose of performing film music in general. In 2007, the orchestra and conductor Ludwig Wicki, according to the program notes, “entered into a partnership” with Shore, eventually culminating in performances of the music of the trilogy in real time with the films and the Lord of the Rings Symphony . Despite their almost total commitment to Shore and LOTR , this interpretation sounds bland compared to Shore’s far more dynamic performances conducting the London Philharmonic on the complete albums. Too many of the (admittedly difficult to avoid) selections in the Lord of the Rings Symphony highlight the vocal clichés and those waxing and waning crescendos with excessive emphasis on smooth legato flow. The result is a mushy musical quagmire. The growling brass and pounding percussion in the music associated with the Orcs pales in comparison to the Shore-conducted complete scores. The sound, like the performance, is adequate, but is lacking in bass impact and inner detail (both present in spades on the Reprise albums, especially the DVD-Audio version). Howe Records is Shore’s own personal label, so it is not surprising that the brief program notes by Shore and Wicki are primarily self-congratulatory and add little aside from factual information on the orchestra. There is no musical analysis (which would have been very helpful), and there is no access to individual tracks beyond the six separate movements. The applause in these live performances is surprisingly muted given the size and scope of the project. Perhaps many of the faithful were asleep.

The music from LOTR is available on those excellent complete Reprise albums, and three severely truncated, separate original soundtrack single CDs that are essentially useless because they totally fail to do justice to Shore’s work and emphasize the hard-to-take vocal music. Completists and anyone interested in definitive performances will have to acquire the complete albums, which do provide access to individual cues. This Lord of the Rings Symphony is a useful collection of excerpts for those of you not interested in the financial expenditure and listening fatigue induced by the complete scores. There is still room for a recording of extended excerpts from LOTR with a suitably dynamic performance and audiophile sound.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

Lord Of The Rings Symphony by Howard Shore
Performer:  Kaitlyn Lusk (Voice)
Conductor:  Ludwig Wicki
Orchestra/Ensemble:  21st Century Symphony Orchestra,  21st Century Chorus

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