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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Complete Recordings: a review

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Complete Recordings

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A review of Howard Shore's Oscar-winning score

Howard Shore's complete Oscar-winning score for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, from the epic film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, was released for the first time in a deluxe five-disc edition from Reprise/WMG Soundtracks on November 20, 2007. Originally set for November 6, 2007, the release date was later modified to November 20, 2007 due to the Southern California wildfires.

This incredible release contains almost four hours of music on four CDs, containing the full score of the 2003 film and marks the third and final edition of the three complete recording releases of the film trilogy whose score has earned with three Academy Awards, four Grammy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards. The fifth disc is a DVD-Audio which presents the entire The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Complete Recordings in Advanced Resolution Surround Sound, Advanced Resolution Stereo Sound, Dolby Digital Surround Sound, and Dolby Digital Stereo Sound. Unlike the first two complete recording sets, The Return of the King: The Complete Recordings is currently available for download via the Apple iTunes service.

Composed for symphony orchestra, adult and children's choir, and soloists, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - The Complete Recordings was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, The London Voices, The London Oratory School Schola and features vocal performances by Rene Fleming, Sissel, Ben Del Maestro and cast members Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, and Dominic Monaghan. The score also boasts solos performed by renowned flautist Sir James Galway as well as Annie Lennox performing the Oscarï-winning song "Into the West."

It would be impossible to pick a favorite song out of such an epic collection, or a favorite ten songs, for that matter. However, with Track #15 "The Lighting of the Beacons" the project becomes especially noteworthy.

Track #1 "Roots and Beginnings" acts as an overture of sorts, and reintroduces many of the thematic melodies or "leitmotifs" -- musical phrases associated with a character, object, or location which appear throughout Shore's soundtrack. The score has over 80 specific leitmotifs. One of the things Shore does with great success is change the tone of each leitmotif or musical theme when it shows up in the next song. In one song it may be a perky little ditty, in the next the same leitmotif carries the majesty of a hymn or the pomp and grandeur of processional.

The next several tracks are purposefully subdued. Shore does a masterful job of building the tension and setting the tone for each scene with the musical score, and the tension which begins to build in #4 "The Foot of Orthanc" and is completely lightened in the short snippet of #7 "The Green Dragon." The dark tones return in #8 "Gollum's Villainy;" however, there is another peaceful, melodic interlude with #9 "Eowyn's Dream."

Shore begins to unleash his musical forces with track #10 "The Palantir" where the tension escalates and the musical themes become more threatening through the beginning #11 "Flight from Edoras" Shore still holds back, and "Edoras" ends with more gentle, pleasant strains which lead into the spellbinding beauty of Renee Fleming's vocals and the lyrical beauty of #12 "The Grace of Undomiel," one of the prettiest songs on the soundtrack. The next several tracks introduce more themes from Isengard and Mordor as the musical tension continues to slowly build.

The project really takes off with track #15 "The Lighting of the Beacons" which combines threatening tones with very triumphant musical elements. The battle has been engaged and Rohan is being summoned at this point, and Shore's music brings to life the threat and the hope in equal measure at the end of disc one. Likewise in #16 "Osgiliath Invaded" just when the music reaches an almost discordant climax, there is an answering purposeful and hopeful musical response complete with choral harmony. The musical themes almost battle until the high, sweet voice of Ben del Maestro leads to the songs triumphant conclusion.

The project goes into high gear with track #27 "The Siege of Gondor" which features a compelling chorus with stirring orchestration. The tension and drama are palpable throughout this track. By track #31 "Shelob the Great," the tension has reached a crescendo, a crescendo which more or less lasts through the next 20 songs, but with beautiful musical interludes woven throughout. The most compelling music is contained in these last tracks.

How can music be noble, courageous, bold and grimly determined? Somehow Shore pulls it off with #33 "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields." Remember "Eye of the Tiger" from the first Rocky movie, which showed up everywhere for several years in any scene where someone was facing some kind of battle? "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields" has that effect on me.

In the middle of passionate songs of battle are two melodic tracks, #39 "The Passing of Theoden" and #40 "The Houses of Healing." "The Houses of Healing" showcases Liv Tyler doing a surprising job with her vocals in this song, carrying it off even in the illustrious company of talent featured on the rest of the project. Boy soprano Ben Del Maestro on #45 "For Frodo," has such a clear, beautifully piercing quality to his voice it hits every tender nerve. Norway's Sissel Kyrkjebo lends her unique voice to the haunting solo "Asea Aranion" on track #42 "The Last Debate" and her evocative vocals provide their own translation of the words.

Renee Fleming's voice soars eloquently and ethereally on songs such as #48 "The Eagles" and #49 "The Fellowship Reunited." Sir James Galway is also featured prominently in the collection and each time becomes one of my "favorite songs." For instance, #44 "The Mouth of Sauron" is surprisingly lilting given the subject matter due to Galway's flute, and it ends with elements from the "Into the West" melody. These unexpected elements missed during the movie kept the entire four-hour experience fresh and novel.

#49 "The Fellowship Reunited" which features Viggo Mortenson's coronation song and James Galway's golden flute in addition to Renee Fleming's vocals, is also especially noteworthy because it employs several of the leitmotifs poignantly woven together both in track 49 and then again in #50 "The Journey to the Grey Havens."

Annie Lennox makes "Into the West"a lovely, moving song. "Into the West" is part of a grander song, #52 "Days of the Ring" which manages to somehow tie the whole project together, again weaving in several themes and covering quite a bit of musical ground and ending an a majestic note. From such a moving ending we are given one last offering, the sweet, gentle strains of #53 "Bilbo's Song" song by the angelic voices of a children's choir. The song reminds us of the hope and goodness J.R.R. Tolkien wanted us to find throughout his work and is an appropriate ending to a magnificent opus.

The scores for The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King won Academy Awards in 2002 and 2004. The Return of the King also won an Oscar for Best Song, as well the Golden Globes for Best Original Score - Motion Picture and Best Original Song. The majestic, regal, and hauntingly beautiful score for The Return of the King is widely considered to be one of the most popular orchestral film scores of all time and has become the cornerstone of Shore's career.

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