'Rings' symphony is a tad too long - The Washington Times

'Rings' symphony is a tad too long
The Washington Times

As if arising from the ancient mists, J.R.R. Tolkien's magnificent epic "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy materialized once more this weekend past in Fairfax City.

No, not the celebrated novels. And not the stunning, Oscar-winning films. Instead, the concert hall of George Mason University's Center for the Arts opened its doors to host the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra -- assisted by the Fairfax Choral Society's adult and youth choruses and guest soloists -- in the Washington area premiere of Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" symphony under the baton of guest conductor Markus Huber.

Unfortunately, only a die-hard fan of the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy would have fully appreciated Mr. Shore's re-casting of his movie score as a full-length concert work. Dedicating an entire evening to the music of three long, interrelated movies carries hidden risks. First, all film music has dull patches linking cinematic episodes, or passages that simply make noise to underscore the violence of a battle. Further, heard over a long film or films, the movie music can become numbingly repetitious.

That is the problem with Mr. Shore's re-casting of his music as a "symphony," which is actually a huge tone poem in six parts filling more than two hours of concert time including intermission. While Mr. Shore's distinctive music contains lovely Celtic motifs, a subdued but inspirational main theme, and a number of exciting, percussive martial passages, it would have been far more effective had at least half an hour of the work been cut.

As it was, the symphony was fitfully beautiful and frequently haunting and the performance was impressive. The combined choruses sang extraordinarily well, and the musicians played with precision under Mr. Huber's precise baton. And the youthful soloists, boy soprano Xavier Flory and teenage soprano phenom Kaitlyn Lusk, sang movingly but all-too-briefly. However, during Friday's performance, some all-too-obvious two-dimensional miking marred the work's opening stanza, which was fortunately addressed by the second half of the program.

It's remarkable how effective the best film music is in setting a movie's mood and tempo. The music is, however, still primarily designed as color and background to reinforce the plotlines of the film's visual action, and not every bar is destined for immortality. A shorter version of Mr. Shore's often-majestic score might yet find its place in the concert repertoire. The current performing version, though, is far too long.

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