1. Glamdring (3:50)
2. Elven Rope (2:19)
3. Lost in Emym Muil (4:14)
4. My Precious (2:56)
5. Uglik's Warriors (1:41)
6. The Three Hunters (6:12)
7. The Banishment of Eomer (3:54)
8. Night Camp (2:50)
9. The Plains of Rohan (4:14)
10. Fangorn (5:13)
11. The Dead Marshes (5:07)
12. "Wraiths on Wings" (2:07)
13. Gandalf the White (6:47)
14. The Dream of Trees (1:54)
15. The Heir of Numenor (6:50)
16. Ent-draught (2:53)
1. Edoras (4:34)
2. The Court of Meduseld (3:10)
3. Theoden King featuring 'The Funeral of Theodred', Miranda Otto (6:12)
4. The King's Decision (2:07)
5. Exodus of Edoras (5:42)
6. The Forests of Ithilien (6:37)
7. One of the Dunedain featuring 'Evenstar', Isabel Bayrakdarian (7:13)
8. The Wolves of Isengard (4:22)
9. Refuge at Helm's Deep (3:59)
10. The Voice of Saruman (1:11)
11. Arwen's Fate featuring 'The Grace of the Valar', Sheila Chandra (3:58)
12. The Story Foretold (3:58)
13. Sons of the Steward (6:02)
14. Rock and Pool (2:54)
15. Faramir's Good Council (2:20)
1. Aragorn's Return (2:11)
2. War is Upon Us (3:35)
3. "Where is the Horse and the Rider?" (6:15)
4. The Host of the Eldar (2:50)
5. The Battle of the Hornburg (2:52)
6. The Breach of the Deeping Wall (3:03)
7. The Entmoot Decides (2:06)
8. Retreat featuring 'Haldir's Lament', Elizabeth Fraser (4:40)
9. Master Peregrin's Plan (2:31)
10. The Last March of the Ents, Ben Del Maestro (2:31)
11. The Nazgul Attack (2:45)
12. Theoden Rides Forth, Ben Del Maestro (5:47)
13. The Tales That Really Matter (12:01)
14. "Long Ways to Go Yet" featuring 'Gollum's Song', Emiliana Torrini (8:05)
1. DVD Audio - Entire Score in Superior Sound
I had been pondering the best way to provide some kind of commentary on the voluminous music that Howard Shore produced for his multi-award winning Lord of the Rings trilogy, but concluded that a detailed analysis would take too long and probably be a futile exercise. Providing highlights from ten hours of music would be difficult and at my usual rate, probably take till approximately the end of time. In any event, all three releases come with possibly the most detailed liner notes ever to grace a soundtrack release (although there are plenty of strong contenders these days) so anyone with more than a passing interest in the plethora of themes and their use is likely to be much better served reading them. Therefore, at the risk of casting too shallow a view, I plumped for more general thoughts, leaving the more detailed commentary to the original single disc releases. In truth, the expanded releases don't particularly change my view of the three scores; Fellowship establishes the best of the core thematic material, The Two Towers is darker, but still a little unfocussed for much of its running time and Return of the King mixes the best of all worlds, providing for a very strong finale. Much though it will likely pain die hard fans, the original releases do, for my money, still contain all of the best bits of certainly the first and third scores, The Two Towers being a touch too dark and introspective for much of its running time for highlights. Indeed, at just over three hours for the first two and three and three quarter hours for The Return of the King, there is an awful lot of music, even just one at a time. I like the epic symphonies of Mahler or Havergal Brian plenty, but much beyond 90 minutes, it's hard to maintain focus.
One of the comments I made in my original review of The Return of the King was my doubt that the Lord of the Rings scores would benefit a complete release. I rather fancied it was inevitable and the presentation of the Complete Recordings is as sumptuous as any release I can think of, but I'm still yet to be totally convinced of the merits of having every single note (more or less) available. The themes which didn't perhaps seem that strong first time round (save for maybe the ubiquitous Fellowship fanfare from episode one and the jaunty Hobbit music) have certainly distilled themselves successfully into the consciousness and it's maybe the crucial, but less hummable melodies that turn out to the strongest in the long run. Whether it's the mysterious Ring theme that opens each film or Gollum's skittish melody (although I'm still puzzled that Shore didn't use the melody from the song that closes The Two Towers as its tortuous melody seems even better suited), the important, but secondary main themes (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) are all the more powerful and potent.
For all the myriad of melodic content, I still have this nagging feeling that Shore doesn't do as much with the material as he might. Possibly they are too linear or too brief (few of them are more than half a dozen bars long) to put them through the assortment of variations one might expect in scores of this length and magnitude. The Wagnerian allusion is often made (both with the story itself, as well as Shore's music) in terms of the use of leitmotif, but too much feels like simple musical markers to highlight a character, object or place, rather than actual storytelling in music. I know it's an easy comparison, but the original Star Wars scores still hang together far more effectively as musical storytelling than Shore manages. It could, conceivably, be a matter of length and familiarity, but there are lengthy passages in all three of Shore's scores that don't really feel like they are going anywhere, especially some of the less inspired battle music; the final forest battle from Fellowship is a particular case in point, quite a lot of banging and clanging, but not a great deal of direction. Shore remains ostensibly stodgy in his approach to much of the action; true, when he fires up the chorus for the finale of Return of the King it makes your hairs stand on end, but too often it trundles along loudly, but without a great deal of musical purpose. Perhaps it's a side effect of having to score sprawling battles rather than the tighter skirmishes Williams had, but even so there are moments (some of them fairly lengthy) when Shore definitely seems to be marking time.
With typically effortless skill I'm pouring a lot of cold water on some scores that people do love, notably the listeners of Classic FM. Mind you, before The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I think they decided Gladiator was the best score of all time. Hmmm. However there is ample to admire. As noted above, the melodies are strong and there are a lot of them, many of which aren't obvious on first listen (Gollum's theme seemed particularly elusive for me first time round) but naturally many get a much wider airing on a three hour disc compared to a one. There are also a good number of scintillating moments, although few beat the Lighting of the Beacon from Return of the King, ironically one track not to benefit from being expanded. The addition of some joining material (of which there is a quite a bit on the Complete Recordings generally) robs the original album sequencing of some of its power as the buildup is stalled a few times. It's little things like that which validate the impact a good editor can have, carefully pruning the material to produce the best stand alone musical experience. Still, it's not the first example of the soundtrack listener becoming accustomed to a track on disc only to be reminded that the original film version isn't quite so slick and powerful. Sure, The Lighting of the Beacon is still a spine tingling moment, but the extra build up material doesn't really enhance the power of the moment, just makes it a bit laboured. On the flip side, the additional music afterward is very welcome.
Naturally, going from one and a bit to three or nearly four hours, the feel of each album is very different to the original highlights albums. The structure is always going to be a little looser than on a 75 minute disc, but it's surprising just how different it feels compared to say (sorry again for the lazy comparison) the original Star Wars albums and the double disc versions. Where they basically felt the same, with just the occasional addition and re-edit here and there, the Complete Recordings feel like completely different versions of the same music. There are passages that are obvious from the original discs, but few move or develop in quite the same way and the surrounding tracks are almost certain to be different. This is certainly notable in Fellowship and The Return of the King where there are obvious highlights around which ones memories of the score are built. Despite plentiful listens, there's not nearly so much material that stands out in The Two Towers save for the arrival of the Elves at Helm's Deep, which also constitutes one of Shore's best reworkings of a major theme, turning the mysterious Elvish music into something martial and striking. If only he'd applied that level of invention slightly more often, particularly the Fellowship fanfare which, even in Return of the King still seems to just appear in full brass mode every time and at the same tempo; in an action cue such as the otherwise fine Osgiliath Invaded, it simply doesn't gel with the dense, dissonant material surrounding it. Even more frustrating as when Shore actively shifts tone, such as the move from dense orchestral writing to solo female vocalist, thirty seconds before the end of the cue, the effect is stunning and immensely powerful.
If all that sounds like a load of reasons not to buy The Complete Recordings, don't let it be. The Lord of the Rings scores are a superb achievement, especially from a composer whose style didn't inherently seem to lend itself to such a grandiose undertaking. Maybe it's just a reaction to the almost universal praise they have received which leads me to pick them apart just a little more than I might otherwise have done. Also, the rampant completism of the Complete Recordings doesn't really show the scores in their best light. There's definitely plenty of material omitted from the originals that is worth hearing, but also a lot that wouldn't be a huge loss if it weren't on disc. In all three cases, the music at the beginning and end of the scores is generally stronger than the middle and a little pruning midway might have worked in favour. Still, it was always likely to be more or less complete despite, I suspect, there being quite a number of alternate versions of certain cues or where there are differences with how music features in the film; they are not slavish, Phantom Menace style releases with every edit from the film left in - fortunately. Maybe I'll revisit these comments in five years and realise that I was too harsh, but I just felt a little perspective was in order. However, if you can clear a few hours in your day for each of these scores, they do contain plentiful riches and whatever one can say about the technical aspects of the score, Shore has successfully created an all encompassing sound world that is exciting, dark and atmospheric enough to evoke every corner of Middle Earth.
As a footnote, each release comes with the entire score on one DVD in 5.1 sound and it has to be said that the results are considerably more impressive than the occasionally uninspiring mixes found on the regular CDs. Whether it's the mixing, the orchestration or the recording venue, there have always been some grumbles about the stereo mixes, but 5.1 allows the sound field to be opened up. You get a real three dimensional feel for the orchestra and, in particular, the choral passages there the layers are more clearly separated and the clarity is notable. Also great to have all the music on one disc. Mind you, iTunes is what 3 disc soun
Howard Shore's Oscar winning music for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is one of those scores that practically everyone noticed while watching the film, and actually remembered afterwords. It's not that strange really - the score is larger than life, and perfectly accompanies the visuals. It's not too stupid to guess that The Two Towers will have the same effect on moviegoers. Judging by the soundtrack CD I think it's safe to say that Shore has produced yet another Academy Award-worthy score.
The score for The Two Towers is considerably darker than the one for The Fellowship of the Ring. Sure, The Fellowship had its fair share of darkness too, what with the gothic music for the Ringwraiths and all, but while it gave the listener the opportunity to take a break from the action and relax a little with cues such as "Many Meetings" and "Concerning Hobbits", The Two Towers is pretty much action and suspense from start to finish. Apart from a couple of tracks, like "Evenstar" and "Breath of Life", but they are more sad than lighthearted.
However, similar to The Fellowship of the Rings score (this is act two of what Howard Shore likes to describe as a three act opera, after all), is the overall sound of the score - most notably the string writing, bombastic brass and the strong presence of voices. Shore makes use of both male, female, boys and full choir and solo voices. I'm thrilled to hear that the deep "ho ho ho"-choir from Moria makes a guest appeareance in the opening "Foundations of Stone" as this without doubt was one of the musical highlights of the first film. Absent however is the dark, chanting choir of the Black Riders, but what we get instead makes up for it big time. "The Passage of the Marshes" features some truly scary writing for choir as Frodo, Sam and Gollum make their way through marshes haunted by ancient fallen warriors. And the solo performances in other cues are outstanding. "Evenstar" includes some gorgeous singing by Isabel Bayrakdarian, recalling Enya's contribution to the first score. But much better. The excellent "Breath of Life" features the voice of Sheila Chandra, while "Forth Eorlingas" couples the singing of Ben Del Maestro with an enormous orchestral swell, creating one of the grandest moments of the entire score.
On to the themes then. Many of the leitmotifs and themes from the previous score appear here as well, and Shore does a good job expanding and developing them. The Ring theme makes several appearances. It opens the score in "Foundations of Stone", performed by slow strings, similar to the first statement in The Fellowship of the Ring (over the films' title) and makes another noteworthy appearance in "The Hidden Pool". "The Uruk-Hai" reprises several already established themes. The heroic theme for the Fellowship shows up in a very grand, and long, version, dominated by piercing trumpet and low brass. It's soon replaced by Sauron's aggressive brassy, motif, which in turn is replaced by the militaristic theme for Isengard and Saruman's army of Uruk-Hais. There is a beautiful rendition of the temptation theme, or rather the theme used to represent the seductive nature of The One Ring, in "The Forbidden Pool". It was more or less hummed by a quiet boys choir in the first film, and the choir is used here too, but this version is fuller, more rich and more mysterious. Great stuff. It's also nice to hear that Galadriel's, or the Elven, theme found its way into this score as well. "The Leave Taking" reprises this beautiful, albeit depressing, piece. And the lovely theme for Frodo appears briefly in the opening of the second track, "The Taming of Smeagol". Which brings us to the sad and tragic character of Gollum. I was very much hoping that Shore would choose to develop Gollum's theme from the first film. This is unfortunately not the case. Even if the theme shows up a couple of times (there's an excellent rendition in "The Forbidden Pool" for example) Shore has created a new theme, or motif for Gollum. It's a very uneasy eight note figure performed by hammered dulcimer and cimbalom that perfectly reflects the nature of Gollum/Smeagol. This is just one of the things that make Shore's scores for these films so great - the fact that the composer is so incredibly creative, inventive and ambitious, not afraid to try unconventional and interesting ideas.
As for other new themes there are several. The one that's easiest to spot is the theme used to represent the Kingdom of Rohan. It's very stoic, proud and little unpolished and is often performed by an ensemble dominated by thick brass ("The Riders of Rohan") but it also shows up performed by a single Hardanger fiddle, which gives it a very folksy, and mythical (for lack of a better word) sound that should suit the proud and Norse-influenced culture of the Rohans like a glove. One of the more interesting new themes is the one for Treebeard, our favorite Ent. It takes over the entire stage in the "Treebeard" track, arranged for slow woodwinds (oboe and bassoon), supported by strange, but very "woody" percussive instruments. It's a very primal, rustling sound that's more textural than thematic.
The CD closes with "Gollum's Song". Performed by singer Emiliana Torrini, this is a creepy and sad song, (owing much to Shore's orchestrations but also to the lyrics) which I actually didn't like the first times I listened to it - Torrini sounds a little too much like Bjork and the sound was at first a little too close to a Bond song (it may sound weird, but it's true!). But it really grew on me over time and now I really, really like it. Played over the end credits this will hopefully be a terrific and very solemn ending to yet another splendid Lord of the Rings score. Howard Shore, and The Lord of the Rings, are back in full force. This is the reason I listen to filmmusic.
One final reflection before I end this review. It will be interesting to see how this soundtrack will be marketed. While the marketing and promotion of the soundtrack for the first film focused almost entirely on Enya's small contribution to the score, The Two Towers soundtrack lacks a big name the record labels marketing department can base their campaigns on. Apart from Shore himself, that is, who actually is starting to get rather well known. I guess we'll see a lot of "By the composer of The Lord of the Rings -stickers on a lot of future Howard Shore soundtracks, a la James Horner and Titanic.