Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The New Arrival: Shore's Symphony

So, on Saturday came a new cd: THE LORD OF THE RINGS SYMPHONY, by Howard Shore, performed by the '21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus', who are apparently based in Lucerne (Switzerland), and directed by Ludwig Wicki. This is not to be confused with THE LORD OF THE RINGS: SYMPHONY No. 1, by Johan de Meij, which has been around for more than two decades now. Instead, it's Shore's scores for the LotR films adapted into symphony form, more or less. I say 'more or less', because it's rather unusual for a symphony to have six movements (four is traditional). Here, of course, the six parts correspond to the six books that make up Tolkien's LotR, rather than (as I expected) a three-part structure deriving from the three Peter Jackson films.

So how is the music? Well, if you disliked Shore's scores (as a small but vocal minority does) you won't like this either, since it derives from the film music. Surprisingly enough, I found it less impressive than the original individual soundtracks from which it derives. Played too softly, it vanishes into the background; played loudly, I found I had some trouble identifying where in the story we were at different points (which had not been the case with the three soundtracks). I'd thought this would be tighter and have greater impact than the longer scores, but I think the opposite turns out to be the case. This shorter version seems to me to have less focus, oddly enough.

Such at any rate is my first impression. It's entirely possible Shore's symphony will grow on my over time. But for now I think I'll be more likely to re-listen to the cds I have (FR, TT, RK, the stage musical) and that this might drift towards the back of the shelf. We'll see. At least it has more impact than the de Meij, which I've never been able to listen to all the way through without my attention wandering -- though I see that there's a new recording of this out, from the London Symphony Orchestra. If anyone has heard this, I'd be interested in how it compares to the earlier recordings: does it have more character?

--John R.

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