Recording information: Concert Hall KKL Lucerne, Switzerland (02/12/2011/02/13/2011).
Film composer Howard Shore wrote 12 hours' worth of music for the trilogy of films director Peter Jackson made from J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novel series The Lord of the Rings. Shore and John Mauceri condensed and adapted the music into The Lord of the Rings Symphony, given its premiere recording here from a February 2011 live performance by Swiss conductor Ludwig Wicki's 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, a group created in Lucerne in 1999 specifically for the purpose of playing film music, often accompanied by the films themselves. Shore and Mauceri have come up with six movements based on the "books" in the three volumes of the trilogy and films, subtitled "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," and "The Return of the King." It's not clear that the result, nearly two hours of music, actually justifies the definition of a symphony. The composer and his associate have created two-part suites from each of Shore's soundtracks, using music that conforms to the development of the story. So, for instance, "Movement One" contains Celtic themes, including music played on an Irish whistle, while "Movement Three" has plenty of familiar action themes, and "Movement Four" ends with the haunting "Gollum's Song," sung by soloist Kaitlyn Lusk. The final "Movement Six" contains some triumphant passages before reintroducing the Irish whistle as a signal that troubles have been resolved; then, Lusk returns to sing the lullaby "Into the West." But that's a simple overview of a large musical canvas including lots of choral music, with singers intoning portions of Tolkien's invented languages, among other things. There is much of interest here, and it might be an intriguing idea to edit the sprawling film works down to a sort of extended trailer that might illustrate the music. Strict classical music fans probably wouldn't consider this a well-organized symphony, however. ~ William Ruhlmann