The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (The complete soundtrack recordings of the score by HOWARD SHORE for Part III of the trilogy) [Collector’s Edition] – London Philharmonic Orchestra/Shore/ many guest artists – Reprise/Warner Bros.

by | Nov 23, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (The complete soundtrack recordings of the score by HOWARD SHORE for Part III of the trilogy) [Collector’s Edition] – London Philharmonic Orchestra/Shore/ many guest artists incl. James Galway and Annie Lennox – Reprise/Warner Bros. 163044-2 (4 CDs + 1 DVD-A) ****:

This lavish five-disc boxed set brings us the first DVD-Audio release we’ve received for review in some time, evidently showing the hi-res format isn’t completely dead (but oddly it doesn’t identify it as DVD-A anywhere). I believe the last one we received was the similar set with a DVD-A for Part II of the trilogy. It’s unfortunate that the DVD-A is not made available separately, or perhaps a boxed set of all three DVD-As, since the SRP of this third set is $75.  But on the other hand, true fans of LOTR may not think this Collector’s Edition is overdoing it.  Even those without the ability to play back the DVD-A format can still play the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the same disc on their DVD player if they have surround, and the Dolby stereo option if they don’t. (Though the standard CDs will probably sound better.)

The fifth disc is recorded on both sides and covers every single track presented across the four standard CDs, using 48K/24-bit sampling, and showing onscreen an artistic impression of a still from the portion of the film during which the particular music track is heard.  The actual disc is identified with very tiny and identical printing on both sides, so you have to put it in your player to learn whether you have accessed Side A or Side B when you see the menu on the screen.  It appears there wasn’t enough space on this fairly crammed DVD-A to include more stills from the film or even a short video segment to go with each music track. (That sort of negates one of the main attributes of the format which SACD lacks.) The surround mix is quite exciting; it places more sounds in the surround channels – especially choral voices – than the typical hi-res classical surround mix.

Howard Shore must have composed more soundtrack music for this series than any other composer has done for films in recent memory, and to have every bit of it available in “Superior Sound” – they don’t call it DVD-A or even surround – is quite an achievement. In addition to the London Philharmonic, there are both adult and children’s choirs and a raft of guest artists.  Among them are flutist James Galway (the wooden folk flutes heard in the earlier film scores have now morphed into sophisticated symphonic instruments – Galway’s is even solid gold – soprano Renée Fleming, rock vocalist Annie Lennox, and others. Two illustrated booklets are furnished in the set – the first is on the overall plan for the film score in general, and the second thicker booklet analyzes the score almost track by track, with frequent printed musical examples and many illustrations. Shore makes the point that although most of the now-familiar leitmotifs for the various characters, ideas, races of creatures, and objects such as the all-important Ring will be heard again in the music, he has modified and sometimes combined them in various ways to illustrate the continuing storyline.

Just one example of this is the Fellowship of the Ring Theme which has been heard repeatedly in the earlier films. The fellowship breaks up and the three hunters go in search of their friends. They take with them musically fragments of the Fellowship Theme wherever their journeys take them, and then they finally come together again near the end the theme is given its strongest and most heroic orchestration. Shore’s modifications of the various themes are described in detail; many of them are fully as complex and tied to philosophical elements of the story line as are Richard Wagner’s in his operas. In fact, Shore alludes to this influence by quoting a small bit of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung music in the final moments of his Return of the King score.

Disc: 1

1. Roots and Beginnings
2. Journey to the Crossroads
3. The Road to Isengard
4. The Foot of Orthanc
5. Return to Edoras
6. The Chalice Passed
7. The Green Dragon Featuring Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan
8. Gollum’s Villainy
9. Éowyn’s Dream
10. The Palantír
11. Flight from Edoras
12. The Grace of Undómiel Featuring Renée Fleming
13. The Eyes of the White Tower
14. A Coronal of Silver and Gold
15. The Lighting of the Beacons

Disc: 2
1. Osgiliath Invaded Featuring Ben del Maestro
2. The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
3. Allegiance to Denethor
4. The Sacrifice of Faramir Featuring Billy Boyd performing “The Edge of Night”
5. The Parting of Sam and Frodo
6. Marshalling at Dunharrow
7. Andúril – Flame of the West
8. The Passing of the Grey Company
9. Dwimorberg – The Haunted Mountain
10. Master Meriadoc, Swordthain
11. The Paths of the Dead
12. The Siege of Gondor
13. Shelob’s Lair
14. Merry’s Simple Courage

Disc: 3
1. Grond – The Hammer of the Underworld
2. Shelob the Great
3. The Tomb of the Stewards
4. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
5. The Pyre of Denethor
6. The Mûmakil
7. Dernhelm in Battle
8. “A Far Green Country”
9. Shieldmaiden of Rohan
10. The Passing of Théoden
11. The Houses of Healing Featuring Liv Tyler
12. The Tower of Cirith Ungol
13. The Last Debate Featuring Sissel performing “Asëa Aranion”
14. The Land of Shadow
15. The Mouth of Sauron Featuring Sir James Galway
16. “For Frodo” Featuring Ben del Maestro

Disc: 4
1. Mount Doom Featuring Renée Fleming
2. The Crack of Doom
3. The Eagles Featuring Renée Fleming
4. The Fellowship Reunited Featuring Sir James Galway, Viggo Mortensen, and Renée Fleming
5. The Journey to the Grey Havens Featuring Sir James Galway
6. Elanor Featuring Sir James Galway
7. Days of the Ring Featuring Annie Lennox performing “Into the West”
8. Bilbo’s Song

Disc 5 (DVD-A & DVD-V)
[All of the above tracks in 5.1 surround or 2.0]

 – John Sunier

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