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The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King - Complete Recordings

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of King - Complete Recor
Release Date: 11/20/2007 
Label:  Reprise   Catalog #: 162044  
Composer:  Howard Shore
Conductor:  Howard Shore
Number of Discs: 5 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHORE The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King & Howard Shore, cond; Renée Fleming (sop); James Galway (flute); Annie Lennox (voc); Sissel (voc); London Oratory School Schola; London Voices; Soloists; London PO REPRISE 162044 (4 CDs: 229:46)

& DVD-A of score

This album completes the release of the absolutely, totally, unequivocally complete scores for Read more style="font-style:italic">LOTR . That means, for better or worse, every single note (nearly four hours for The Return of the King ). Along with The Fellowship of the Ring ( Fanfare : 29:5) and The Two Towers ( Fanfare : 30:4), there is a total of 10 CDs of music. The format for The Return of the King is the same as the previous two scores, only this one is even longer. There are four CDs and a DVD-Audio version that contains the complete score in higher resolution sound. The album also has a booklet with an interesting and detailed analysis of the thematic material. With such a massive project, the question ultimately boils down to whether the quality of the music justifies the need to record it all. This can be viewed in several different ways. First of all, the original soundtrack single CDs contained a mere fraction of the music and gave the listener no idea of the scope and quality of Howard Shore’s basically symphonic orchestral scores because of their short duration and the fact that they emphasized the various vocal soloists and source music. In fact, those CDs were insulting to Shore and his music. Faced with the inadequate soundtrack albums, LOTR zealots and completists understandably and justifiably lusted for the complete scores. That does not mean that these albums will have the same appeal to the typical classical music-lover, even if he or she is drawn to late-19th-century Wagner-derived music.

All of which leads to my own personal thoughts on Shore’s magnum opus. First and foremost, these are excellent film scores. Shore has succeeded in giving the LOTR trilogy an appropriate and easily recognizable musical signature. The music is consistently well crafted and fulfills the dramatic needs of the films, even if some of the final decisions of Shore, director Peter Jackson, and the production team of these CDs, and The Return of the King are questionable on musical terms. Regardless of what you think of the music, the very size, structural organization, and thematic interrelationships deserve respect. Having said that, there are some problems that listeners other than LOTR fanatics will encounter in the process of trying to digest the complete score for The Return of the King. Some would complain that the music is basically a series of crescendos to nowhere and seemingly endless repetitive minor key chord progressions designed to add gravitas to the portentous onscreen events and pompous dialogue. The film, and therefore its music, moves at a mind-numbingly glacial pace. Even much of the battle music with its incessantly pounding drums is slow and repetitive to the point that it doesn’t make much of an effect after awhile. It really isn’t Shore’s fault. He is faithful to the onscreen dramatic events, but as a listening experience of this length, it is a different story. It is not hard to imagine why some would view The Return of the King as an exercise in tedium. On the other hand, “The History of the Ring” is a remarkable theme both musically and in terms of what it stands for in the plot. The Rivendell music (which is only hinted at a couple times in this score) is simply gorgeous. It is for me the musical highlight of the trilogy. “The Fellowship of the Ring” theme and the music for the Hobbits, derivative as they may be, work well dramatically, and Shore brilliantly blends them into the orchestral fabric.

The new thematic material for The Return of the King is for the most part not very distinguished. The orchestration is dense, dull, monochromatic, and not particularly effective. The inclusion of various big name artists seems to be driven more by marketing rather than musical considerations. The source material, “sung” by various cast members, has no musical value and should not be included. Despite the decibel level, it takes nearly two CDs for things to get going in “The Siege of Gondor.” Then, on the third CD, in “The Land of Shadow,” the big brass are finally fully unleashed with suitably massive dynamic impact. Just before the end, and after a half-hour of bland, reverential ruminations on The Fellowship and Hobbit’s themes interspersed with gentle, rocking chords (as the film plods through a series of dramatically inept false endings), Shore quotes the Rhine motif from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in his final expansive crescendo, appropriately acknowledging the influence of Wagner on everything that is the LOTR.

The sound is essentially the same as the previous two albums, which is to say that it is fairly good, but far from demonstration quality. It is recorded in a true concert hall (as opposed to typical soundtrack) setting with a mid-hall perspective. As with The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers , the high frequencies lack presence and the overall sonic signature is soft and hazy. Call it a New Agey glaze that does no favors for Shore’s dense orchestration. There is a marginal improvement in instrumental separation on the two-channel DVD-Audio disc compared to conventional stereo. Multichannel adds to the epic nature of the music without any objectionable rear channel effects. More people would be able to take advantage of the improved sound if it were available on SACD rather than DVD-A. In the final analysis, if you are a devoted film music fan, it is difficult to complain about the three complete scores for LOTR . I suspect that most traditional classical music-lovers will find these scores to be boring and repetitive, but they could benefit from playing the music in short stretches. Either way, this is the definitive presentation of The Return of the King. The Fellowship of the Ring remains the best of the three scores because it is more variable in tone (the prominence of the Hobbits injects a lighter touch that provides some welcome contrast to the catastrophic events), and presents the principal and best thematic material for the first time. Regardless, everyone involved should be congratulated for the successful conclusion of this massive project.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King by Howard Shore
Conductor:  Howard Shore

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