Home > Reviews > THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS – Howard Shore

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS – Howard Shore

December 20, 2002 Leave a comment Go to comments

lotrtwotowersOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Howard Shore, welcome to the world of film music pressure. It’s a peculiar phenomenon, akin to the “second album” syndrome faced by rock and pop musicians whose debut works are hugely successful; John Williams faced it when embarking on the follow-up scores in the Star Wars saga. Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, such is their popularity and fan base, face it each time they write a new score. Other composers face it when they write music for a beloved piece of fiction – especially in the fantasy or comic book genres – or have scored a major hit with their last effort in a series. With The Lord of the Rings, Howard Shore has joined this latter group.

When The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, such was the critical acclaim and fan-based fervour it generated, The Two Towers would almost need to cause world peace and align the stars to parallel its success. As such, the pressure on Shore was enormous – to deliver the goods dramatically, to maintain the thematic and stylistic tone and – in the minds of the fans – to make it at least as powerful, stirring and moving as the first one. Thankfully, Shore delivers on all counts, providing a score which has the grandeur, and epic scale of the original – and more than a few surprises.

For those who don’t know, The Two Towers is director Peter Jackson’s cinematic version of the “middle section” of JRR Tolkein’s massive Lord of the Rings trilogy – the sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring, and the set-up for the upcoming The Return of the King, due for release late in 2003. Following the events of the last movie, and the death of Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the story now follows the broken Fellowship as they each embark on separate adventures in Middle Earth: Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) trekking into Mordor, guided by the dangerous and mischievous Gollum (Andy Serkis), where they intend to destroy the One Ring; Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) escaping from the Orcs who captured them, and falling into the company of an ancient being known as Treebeard; and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), on the trail of the missing Hobbits, becoming involved with the people of Rohan, its king Theoden (Bernard Hill), and his beautiful daughter (Miranda Otto), whose city is under siege by the dark forces of Saruman (Christopher Lee).

Unlike other film score trilogies, The Two Towers is fortunate in that it does not suffer greatly from “middle-movie” syndrome that plagues others. Shore has written enough original material for this instalment to make it a worthwhile and interesting listen, but dusted it liberally with music from The Fellowship of the Ring to ensure it has a thematic consistency and contains a tangible emotional anchor.

As with the first score, The Two Towers overflows with themes, motifs, and intriguing and varied orchestral work, as well as some of the most impressive choral performances in years, courtesy of the unrivalled London Voices under the direction of Terry Edwards, and the featured soloists. If one were to pick the best thing about Shore’s work, it would be the choral elements: from the stunning opening in ‘Foundations of Stone’, through the dissonance of ‘The Passage of the Marshes’, to the glacially ethereal ‘Evenstar’, the heraldic ‘Helm’s Deep’, the prayer-like reverence of ‘The Hornburg’, and the portentous tones of ‘Isengard Unleashed’, the chorus dominates the proceedings. Texts written in old English and various Tolkein-invented languages soar magisterially in and around the orchestra, adding a great deal weight and implied importance.

In terms of the orchestral music, the two newest, and most noticeable, themes are for a place and a person: Rohan and Gollum. The Rohan theme is a vaguely Celtic, noble melody, first heard in ‘The Riders of Rohan’, where it is performed on a hardanger (Norwegian fiddle) by soloist Dermot Crehan. Thereafter, it appears in various guises: solemnly in ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ where it laments for the fate of King Theoden; in a dramatic, war-like setting in ‘Helm’s Deep’; similarly heroically in both ‘The Hornburg’ and ‘Isengard Unleashed’, and in smaller snippets in various others.

Gollum’s theme, on the other hand, is slithery, snake-like and decidedly unnerving, and is performed mainly on a cimbalom in leitmotivic fashion by soloists Edward Cervenka and Gregory Knowles. It plays in clever counterpoint to the action material in ‘The Taming of Sméagol’; with freakish choral work and mesmerising brass clusters, making ‘The Passage of the Marshes’ so memorable; and in a whispery, unsettling setting in ‘The Forbidden Pool’. It also forms the basis of the conclusive ‘Gollum’s Song’, an amazing, sad, haunting vocal piece performed by Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini, whose vocal delivery is similar to that of her countrywoman, Björk.

Two new action motifs feature woven into the fabric of the spellbinding action sequences, notably ‘The White Rider’, ‘Helm’s Deep’, ‘The Hornburg’, ‘Forth Eorlingas’ and ‘Isengard Unleashed’, the latter of these joining together to become a 8-minute celebration of breathless power and massive scope. And then there are other, standalone sections which catch the ear, such as the new, lumbering march for the Ents in ‘Treebeard’, the beautifully spiritual Elven choral music in ‘Evenstar’ and ‘The Leave Taking’, and recapitulations of the Ring, Isengard (note ‘The Uruk-Hai’), Lothlorien (note the war-like reworking in ‘The Hornburg’), Mordor (note ‘The Black Gate is Closed’) and Fellowship (note ‘Samwise the Brave’) motifs from The Fellowship of the Ring, scattered liberally throughout the score.

The one small thing that slightly mars The Two Towers is the fact that it is not totally new anymore. It may seem a little unfair to mention this, but one of the main reasons The Fellowship of the Ring worked on so many levels was the fact that, despite having written brilliant music for many years, no one truly expected Shore’s work to be so amazing. But now, with the hindsight of Oscars and Grammys and the like – as I mentioned at the beginning of the review – the pressure was on to recapture the brilliance. Shore has succeeded admirably, for sure, but it doesn’t quite have the overwhelming sense of surprise and awe the original had. Maybe we simply expected it to be amazing… and because it is amazing, it doesn’t seem as good… it’s a strange phenomenon, but I digress. The bottom line is that The Two Towers is a monumental effort, a magnificent collision of orchestral and choral power, and easily one of the best scores of the year.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Foundations of Stone (3:51)
  • The Taming of Sméagol (2:48)
  • The Riders of Rohan (4:05)
  • The Passage of the Marshes (2:46)
  • The Uruk-hai (2:58)
  • The King of the Golden Hall (3:49)
  • The Black Gate is Closed (3:17)
  • Evenstar (3:15)
  • The White Rider (2:28)
  • Treebeard (2:43)
  • The Leave Taking (3:41)
  • Helm Deep (3:53)
  • The Forbidden Pool (5:27)
  • Breath of Life (5:07)
  • The Hornburg (4:36)
  • Forth Eorlingas (3:15)
  • Isengard Unleashed (5:01)
  • Samwise the Brave (3:46)
  • Gollum’s Song (written by Howard Shore and Fran Walsh, performed by Emiliana Torrini) (5:53)

Running Time: 72 minutes 39 seconds

Reprise/WMG Soundtracks 9362-48421-2 (2002)

Music composed and conducted by Howard Shore. Performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra and London Voices. Orchestrations by Howard Shore. Featured musical soloists Dermot Crehan, Jan Hendrickse, Edward Cervenka, Gregory Knowles, Sonia Slany and Sylvia Hallett. Special vocal performances by Isabel Bayrakdarian, Sheila Chandra, Ben Del Maestro and Elizabeth Fraser. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander. Edited by Michael Price, Andrew Dudman and Steve Price. Mastered by Peter Mew. Album produced by Howard Shore.

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