The Tolkien Ensemble
& Christopher Lee,
At Dawn in Rivendell:
Selected Songs & Poems
from The Lord of the Rings

(L.A.G., 2002)

Christopher Lee can send chills up and down your spine with his reading of the familiar "Verse of the Rings," a much-quoted piece of J.R.R. Tolkien lore lifted from the endlessly popular Lord of the Rings. His involvement with the recording of At Dawn in Rivendell: Selected Songs & Poems from The Lord of the Rings is a coup indeed!

The majority of the credit, however, goes to the Tolkien Ensemble, a group of musicians formed in 1995 to create "a faithful musical interpretation" of the poems in Tolkien's hallowed text. With the current Tolkien-mania surrounding the trilogy of LotR movies, this is a perfect time for the ensemble to share its music with the world. (There were two earlier recordings, An Evening in Rivendell and A Night in Rivendell, released respectively in 1997 and 2000; somehow, these flew under our radar. A fourth CD is planned.)

Lee, who of course starred in the movies as the evil Saruman, lends his voice to dramatic readings of several poems and provides the singing voice of Treebeard, the ageless Ent. His poetic voice is rich and mellifluous, while his singing voice -- less polished -- has the right tone for slow-moving tree shepherd. "The Long List of the Ents" is particularly fun, as Treebeard humphs his way through an inventory of living creatures.

The ensemble is made up of Danish musicians, obviously with a classical background rather than folk. That is, perhaps, the only failing here -- the courtly air works on some tunes, particularly the elvish ones, but I would imagine a more relaxed, less operatic feel for songs sung by hobbits and the merry Tom Bombadil. But no one could gainsay the excellent musicianship here; the ensemble clearly knows its music, and the stately arrangements have a distinctly period air.

Joining them for this recording, in addition to Lee, are the Copenhagen Chamber Choir Camerata. the Copenhagen Young Strings and solo singers Tom McEwan, Kurt Ravn and Morten Ernst Lassen. A bonus in the CD's extensive liner notes is a set of illustrations by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, herself a Tolkien enthusiast. Also included is the text of all poems recorded for this CD.

Tracks on At Dawn in Rivendell include "Song of Gondor," "Malbeth the Seer's Words," "The Bath Song," "Gandalf's Riddle of the Ents," "Song of Nimrodel," "Athelas" and "Elven Hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel." Music was composed by Caspar Reiff and Peter Hall.

All Tolkien fans -- and really, who isn't a Tolkien fan these days? -- owes it to themselves to check out the Tolkien Ensemble's excellent production, which brings to life a facet of the author's written work in an exciting new way. Everyone has their own ideas how these poems and songs should sound -- the Tolkien Ensemble's adaptation is probably as close as anyone could come to Tolkien's own opinion on the matter.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 21 June 2003

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