Saturday, 24 April 2010

Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers

Last night I saw/heard the second of Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings films with the score played live by (what amounted to) an expanded LPO at the Royal Albert Hall (pictures here). It's the perfect space for this conceit and the idea works very well, particularly as with modern technology it is possible to synch the performance to the film with perfect accuracy.

I've dug out my feelings on the film when I saw it eight years ago (read it here), a four-star impression which captures my feelings on seeing it again in this manner. The film is one of the great artistic achievements of the noughties, the early exemplar-predecessor of the Avatar behemoth and infinitely superior to that blue bore. This is due - as it is always due in filmmaking - to a congregation of factors: Peter Jackson's imagination, Tolkein's timeless story and, yes, Howard Shore's super music.

The music was the main reason for coming tonight. The performance was highly professional, with special mention merited by a titanic low brass section and an eclectic, wide-ranging percussion battery. I had also missed the cymbalon first time around, really good scoring for the Gollum character. Shore must clearly specify that the music be performed with careful stylistic attentiveness in various places, so the leader played the fiddle theme senza vibrato and the solo female vocalist Kaitlyn Lusk sang with Celtic embellishment (that reminded me of Uilleann pipes, used elsewhere in the films).

One final thought: I still retain an over-fond memory of hearing the first performances of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde at Glyndebourne (shortly after seeing this film, back in 2003), principally because of the indescribable cor anglais playing at the beginning of the third act. LPO principal Sue Bohling's execution of this undying, plaintive melody was wonderful and this performance also saw her performing the principal theme from Shore's score at critical junctures in the narrative. Whilst the circumstances were rather different on this occasion, the inevitable connection to be drawn was rendered unavoidable. Shore's great masterstroke is not his endlessly inventive orchestration but rather the ability to capture these little bubbles of inspiration on paper (there can be no more essential function for a composer). This motivic gem is at the heart of all the music in the piece and simultaneously underscores the timeless, allegorical nature of the tale. As I watched the conclusion of the battle at Helm's Deep where the nasty forces of evil (a suicide bomber in a major studio film released in 2002 - I'd forgotten the impact of that at the time) are scattered by the good guys I was reminded of the conclusion of Ian McEwan's novel Black Dogs, in which the 'relentless hate' (to use Tolkein's words in the mouth of King Théoden) is represented by the dogs who leave the scene of the novel wounded but destined to return. Such is the lingering, inextinguisable fact of evil and its concomitant grief and sorrow that is clearly a constituent part of the wistful character of this theme.

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