Review Summary: Howard Shore, and The Lord of the Rings, are back in full force for part two of this epic trilogy.
Howard Shore's Oscar winning music for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is one of those scores that practically everyone noticed while watching the film, and actually remembered afterwords. It's not that strange really - the score is larger than life, and perfectly accompanies the visuals. It's not too stupid to guess that The Two Towers will have the same effect on moviegoers. Judging by the soundtrack CD I think it was safe to say that Shore had produced yet another Academy Award-worthy score.
The score for The Two Towers is considerably darker than the one for The Fellowship of the Ring. Sure, The Fellowship had its fair share of darkness too, what with the gothic music for the Ringwraiths and all, but while it gave the listener the opportunity to take a break from the action and relax a little with cues such as "Many Meetings" and "Concerning Hobbits", The Two Towers is pretty much action and suspense from start to finish. Apart from a couple of tracks, like "Evenstar" and "Breath of Life", but they are more sad than lighthearted.
However, similar to The Fellowship of the Rings score (this is act two of what Howard Shore likes to describe as a three act opera, after all), is the overall sound of the score - most notably the string writing, bombastic brass and the strong presence of voices. Shore makes use of both male, female, boys and full choir and solo voices. I'm thrilled to hear that the deep "ho ho ho"-choir from Moria makes a guest appeareance in the opening "Foundations of Stone" as this without doubt was one of the musical highlights of the first film. Absent however is the dark, chanting choir of the Black Riders, but what we get instead makes up for it big time. "The Passage of the Marshes" features some truly scary writing for choir as Frodo, Sam and Gollum make their way through marshes haunted by ancient fallen warriors. And the solo performances in other cues are outstanding. "Evenstar" includes some gorgeous singing by Isabel Bayrakdarian, recalling Enya's contribution to the first score. But much better. The excellent "Breath of Life" features the voice of Sheila Chandra, while "Forth Eorlingas" couples the singing of Ben Del Maestro with an enormous orchestral swell, creating one of the grandest moments of the entire score.
On to the themes then. Many of the leitmotifs and themes from the previous score appear here as well, and Shore does a good job expanding and developing them. The Ring theme makes several appearances. It opens the score in "Foundations of Stone", performed by slow strings, similar to the first statement in The Fellowship of the Ring (over the films' title) and makes another noteworthy appearance in "The Hidden Pool". "The Uruk-Hai" reprises several already established themes. The heroic theme for the Fellowship shows up in a very grand, and long, version, dominated by piercing trumpet and low brass. It's soon replaced by Sauron's aggressive brassy, motif, which in turn is replaced by the militaristic theme for Isengard and Saruman's army of Uruk-Hais. There is a beautiful rendition of the temptation theme, or rather the theme used to represent the seductive nature of The One Ring, in "The Forbidden Pool". It was more or less hummed by a quiet boys choir in the first film, and the choir is used here too, but this version is fuller, more rich and more mysterious. Great stuff. It's also nice to hear that Galadriel's, or the Elven, theme found its way into this score as well. "The Leave Taking" reprises this beautiful, albeit depressing, piece. And the lovely theme for Frodo appears briefly in the opening of the second track, "The Taming of Smeagol". Which brings us to the sad and tragic character of Gollum. I was very much hoping that Shore would choose to develop Gollum's theme from the first film. This is unfortunately not the case. Even if the theme shows up a couple of times (there's an excellent rendition in "The Forbidden Pool" for example) Shore has created a new theme, or motif for Gollum. It's a very uneasy eight note figure performed by hammered dulcimer and cimbalom that perfectly reflects the nature of Gollum/Smeagol. This is just one of the things that make Shore's scores for these films so great - the fact that the composer is so incredibly creative, inventive and ambitious, not afraid to try unconventional and interesting ideas.
As for other new themes there are several. The one that's easiest to spot is the theme used to represent the Kingdom of Rohan. It's very stoic, proud and little unpolished and is often performed by an ensemble dominated by thick brass ("The Riders of Rohan") but it also shows up performed by a single Hardanger fiddle, which gives it a very folksy, and mythical (for lack of a better word) sound that should suit the proud and Norse-influenced culture of the Rohans like a glove. One of the more interesting new themes is the one for Treebeard, our favorite Ent. It takes over the entire stage in the "Treebeard" track, arranged for slow woodwinds (oboe and bassoon), supported by strange, but very "woody" percussive instruments. It's a very primal, rustling sound that's more textural than thematic.
The CD closes with "Gollum's Song". Performed by singer Emiliana Torrini, this is a creepy and sad song, (owing much to Shore's orchestrations but also to the lyrics) which I actually didn't like the first times I listened to it - Torrini sounds a little too much like Bjork and the sound was at first a little too close to a Bond song (it may sound weird, but it's true!). But it really grew on me over time and now I really, really like it. Played over the end credits this will hopefully be a terrific and very solemn ending to yet another splendid Lord of the Rings score. Howard Shore, and The Lord of the Rings, are back in full force. This is the reason I listen to filmmusic.