on 18 February 2008
I recently purchased several cast recordings from Amazon including this (the other two being 'Phantom' and 'Rent'), with this being the most eagerly anticipated. After all, when compared to only hearing a couple of the songs from this production, as opposed to almost the whole scores from the others (thanks to the films), this was a far more mysterious venture, and one I could hardly wait to take.
I have to say, as with the majority of musical soundtracks and albums by contemporary artists, on first listening you're not all that sure what to think. You're not sure whether you really like it or not. However, after having listened to it several times, and once you've gotten over the fact that half the lyrics are sung in Elvish, the Black Language, or another of Tolkein's invented tongues, that this obviously isn't a typical musical in the sense of the word, it's extremely difficult to put this CD down.
The reason being, I think, is that it's just so easy to listen to. The beautiful prologue ('lasto i lamath') , sung entirely in Elvish with a somewhat Celtic style of music (which is a heavy influence throughout the score), gently eases you into the CD. We're then treated to the first of the more folksy style songs from the Hobbits with 'The Road Goes On'. It's a far more gentle style of music than I, at least, would have imagined, suiting the Hobbit character down to the ground.
There is, however, plenty of variation in style and pace on this recording - 'Saruman' has a sharpness to it that is very much enhanced due to the fact that it is sung entirely in Elvish. 'The Song of Hope' is the sort of song that you hum subconsciously to yourself as you go about the days' proceedings, and 'Star Of Eärendil' runs in the same vein, being the first big, dramatic number for the whole company. In fact, the music is such that you will have the entire album running through the mind when you least expect it.
For me, the highlights to the CD are the songs 'Lothlórien' and 'Wonder', both sung predominantly by the angel-voiced Laura Michelle Kelly as Galadriel. 'Wonder' has a spine tingling reprisal in 'The Final Battle', and is a real belter towards the end - one of the very few on the CD, and which suits it well.
I believe the duet between Aragorn and Arwen, 'The Song of Hope (duet)' is under-appreciated and overshadowed by the likes of 'The Cat and the Moon' and 'Wonder' - though it doesn't have as big an initial impact as some of the others, it does become a beautiful and tender ballad between the two characters. This song, I think, benefits the most from repeated listening.
The finale is one of the most uplifting and pleasurable I've heard for a long time - sort of similar to the finale of 'The Lion King', but with a, obviously, far more Celtic twist than African.
As far as the DVD goes, it's basically the same thing as the CD, with some fascinating (and at times, quite random!) pictures of the production, in full performance and backstage, during development, etc. The alternate version of 'The Song of Hope' is nothing spectacular (I'm very glad they used the one they did), but interesting to listen to on the odd occasion. So nothing hugely extra there, but nothing to turn your nose up at either.
All in all, this CD is a must-have for all theatre fans. I've listened to it three times in quick succession just today, and will probably continue to do so whenever I want something to listen to. The music really is stunningly beautiful - one of the few recordings I've heard where the wholly instrumental tracks are as interesting and easy to listen to as the songs. The only problem, really, is the relative shortness of it - you can listen to the whole CD, non-stop, in about an hour. The only improvement I would seek, as a result, would have been to just have more music.
Honestly, get it. If you had doubts about seeing the show beforehand (despite being pretty successful so far, and having a generally excellent reception from audiences, critics were less than kind) you'll certainly want to now. Here's hoping to a good few years on the West End for this spectacular, both musically and otherwise, production!