x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Spellbinding and epic journey

Shore's six-movement symphony is a juggernaut of a piece, requiring a vast wall of sound to recreate the Frodo's epic journey in Lord of the Rings.

The conductor Markus Huber and the vocal soloist Dorsa Bayat at The Lord of the Rings Symphony concert Friday.
The conductor Markus Huber and the vocal soloist Dorsa Bayat at The Lord of the Rings Symphony concert Friday.

In many other cities, a performance of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings Symphony would be cause for at least a handful of Tolkein enthusiasts to don large, hairy feet and wend their merry hobbit way to the concert hall. As it happened, the healthy turnout at the Emirates Palace on Friday was rather more demure. With more than 100 children from Abu Dhabi and Al Ain choirs taking part, the audience was packed with misty-eyed parents - not to mention the friends and families of about 40 adults from Abu Dhabi community choirs - watching the culmination of an ambitious project that has been about five months in the making. The result was a jovial, well-wishing bunch, who would have been keen to gloss over any tonal grey areas or iffy timing. The presence of the Orpheus Choir from Bulgaria, the German Radio Philharmonic and the seasoned Lord of the Rings conductor Markus Huber ensured that there were relatively few.

Shore's six-movement symphony - two dedicated to each of the three books - is a juggernaut of a piece, requiring a vast wall of sound to recreate the fraught drama of Frodo's epic journey. The sight of nearly 300 performers on stage was a majestic one. After a bold opening of building voices and strings, the audience was transported to the Shire via the Celtic woodwind notes of Shore's hobbit motif - a tune that, while reminiscent of the film, invited unfortunate comparisons with Celine Dion's Titanic hit.

A screen above the stage showed images - tortured, infernal pencil sketches and watercolours - that helped map the action as it unfolded, and lent the music a less filmic, more mythical feel. The Fellowship of the Ring mixed Shore's lightweight leitmotifs with some breathtaking moments: the mournful chanting of Gandalf's Lament, and the immense, doom-ridden male chorus and clashing brass of The Bridge of Khazah-dûm. Finally, as Dorsa Bayat, 12, calmly stepped to the front of the stage to deliver a crisp, a cappella solo, the mist descended.

The Two Towers introduced a more violently percussive element. Banging metal clashed with imposing drum marches, while vast, swelling harmonies evoked the horror of the Black Gate. The Belgian Soprano Ann de Renais delivered an adequate but Broadway-style solo, not helped by its English lyrics, which jolted us out of our blissful incomprehension of elvish. And after a final burst of high drama in The Return of the King, which included several magnificent moments of the entire choir alto voce, we returned once more to the skippy, hobbit-friendly notes of the woodwinds. De Renais sung us out with the bland and repetitive - but Oscar-winning - Into the West. It had been relentless, grandiose, at times spellbinding and at others drawn out - an epic journey indeed.