Album Review / David Arkenstone / Middle Earth Vol 2

#neoclassical #contemporaryalbum #composerdavidarkenstone #middleearth #vol2

How honoured am I to be writing for the ‘gifted musical storyteller’ that is David Arkenstone! His passion and illumination rests unrivalled in the world of music, and this particular album has been deep in thought for 20 years. I expect there has never been such an avid Tolkienite on this earth that is also a prolific and established Contemporary Composer adorned in GRAMMY & SAMA nominations.

“MUSIC INSPIRED BY MIDDLE EARTH VOL 2” is the 2nd album by David inspired by fantasy worlds embedded firmly in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings novels, and I note that having never seen any of these films I come with fresh and unaltered ear drums!! Something I can promise you is magic, unique fusions, epic and cinematic, New Age and World Soundscapes and a big dollop of ‘technological exploration for your imagination!’

So, my thoughts about track 1. #anotherworld #lookingback #epiccinematic

“The Shadow of the Past”

David works quickly here changing chords almost instantly with no introduction and with no looking over his shoulder to whatever laid behind in this ‘Shadowy-Past’. The wordless vocals are seamless and lengthy and I have an image in my head of sopranos deep-diving to build up their lungs like Frank Sinatra used to do. The intonation is spot on and other worldly, just beautiful. A bejeweled harp with flowers for strings steadies our concentration in preparation for this track full of the longest up-and-down bows, they too are seamless from tip to toe and are at their best when in unison with vocals here. Use of the French Horn is sublime and I suddenly have a pull of yearning in my heart, controlled only by their panoramic scope.

Some of David’s orchestral writing takes me back to when I saw John Barry at the Royal Albert Hall in London (I live about 50 minutes from it), something about the long lines of phrasing that never seem to end, just glorious! When listening to this track with headphones one experiences an almost orgasmic surround sound with double-basses at the bottom of the ocean, I mean, how low can they go!! Thrilling indeed. And in complete contrast, a little piccolo played by a tiny pixie tries to be heard amongst the wall of sound, just fleetingly so. David’s use of gigantic compound-intervals work very effectively and then, after a brief moment the sound is gone, I want more!!

The man himself at work

Track 2 “The Green Dragon” #celticdance # riverdance #dancingdragon #green #fiddles #pennywhistles

At once, and setting the scene wonderfully, a lone fiddle in all it’s green danciness appears…(I made that word up and there is nothing better!)…I love folky-fiddles as they don’t get bogged down in ‘vibrato’ and wrist vibrations, their simplicity is very important, especially to this Green Dragon.

Am loving the ‘measure-changes’, firstly in ‘simple quadruple’ then completely changed to a ‘compound time’ of some sort…..probably 6/8 or 12/8 and which gives the music that jaunty effect. The choice of a sparse band of musicians contrasts wonderfully from track 1. and all it’s orchestral magnitude and depth. I have a pennywhistle in my garage (where I keep all my instruments) and David has inspired me to get it out for a good old play! The fiddle texture in this fabulous track gains some of it’s interest from the addition of ‘ornaments’ like folky mordents and acciaccaturas which are fiendishly difficult to play but seem very comfortable here. I can just see the glee on heat during the recording process in David’s brand new studio “The Bamboo Room” in California, such fun. Talking of recordings, how cool is this……coming on Vinyl very soon!!!!

As a Tudor-Folk-Drum plays with mesmerizing accuracy and complex rhythm, Elvin’s dance in arches of three points while a branch vascular system pulsates as if alive. Yes, it is alive indeed. Loving the little ‘portamente’ slides at the top of fiddle notes and adds wonderful shape to phrasing. Mmmm, what’s this I hear??……possibly a musette type instrument and folky flute partner up for some 3rd apart playing of melody and it sounds absolutely terrific! Something is throwing me off now??……it’s so magical and I can’t tell whether there’s been a time change or whether divine accenting is at play……all I know is my tapping of feet had to momentarily stop while my brain tried to process. Crazy off the chart writing talent. Well it’s all go now — everyone’s involved, cantering away while a ‘tambourined -troubador’ keeps his hits on point and Esmeralda from the Hunchback of Notre Dame gyrates for money. The End!

Track 3. “Daughter of the River” #leadsingle #rivermusic #videodtrack #neo-classical #newage #fantasymusic #

The opening strings sit down very gently, hand in hand with the quality of Mahler’s Adagietto, and again the ‘wordless-vocals’ are mesmerizing. But my big shout-out for this particular track is the harpist…….virtuoso playings of filigree golden lace flying on upper thermals and using the harp range to full extent. I’m also getting a little Ravel in his Pavane for a Dead Infant, but not in a sad way, just beautiful. This ‘daughter of the river’ certainly has amazing musical taste!! A creamy, dreamy oboe just makes itself known like soft toffee, I always think the slower the note for an oboe to play, the better it sounds, well chosen David!! Am loving the lower strings in their ‘counter subject mode’ gently rising in repeat, a treat for the ears.

I feel like this ‘water maiden’ is saying to me……”Come, and you will be Reborn” and as the music fades, so does she, back to her own Middle Earth.

Beautiful Artwork

Track 4. “The Light of Imladris” #musicoflight #extraterrestrial #frenchhorn

Being a ‘superfan’ of Lord of the Rings really does have it’s advantages, it allows an imagination like David’s to wander into the realms of an ‘extra-terrestrial’ soundscapes and he says “I envision a place where I would like to go and let my imagination run free”

Tremolando strings work really well here and along with musical sunbeams you can feel something coming…..then a shaft of light emerges through a dappled forest, this is the Light of Imladris I’m sure!!

Sublime and horizontal lines of French Horn work summon up a being other worldly. The flute plays a major role in this magical place, playing descending scale fragments with extra semitonal work, great fit. The main melodic thread on strings and harp presents what may be the first subject that has waited a while to appear??? I’m getting a feeling of each little sunbeam gently caressing a Tubular Bell type instrument which as we know is long and very vertical, looking as sharp as a metal shard, yet their gentle edges do not bleed. David revisits the beginning and bookends the end.

Track 5. “Servant of the Secret Fire” #doomed #march #percussive #deadly

Sergei Prokofiev launches his deadly fire of brass ensemble straight from the wolf’s mouth and darker percussive hits are on point. This is scary and ominous. An ostinato forged in flames pushes forward as other instruments try to beat it down, but it’s no use. An enormous wave comes crashing in and prompts a deadly chant of male vocals……..loving this soooooo much!!!! The clang-and-bang of bells and devils evokes a dimented blacksmith in frenzied form and who is becoming more muscular and raging with every note. He is the servant indeed and his deed is done. My favourite track so far. Immense!!

Track 6. “Caras Galadhon” #trees #inhabited #Lothlorien #elves

I must admit I had to look this one up having no idea where to start!! Who or what?? So we have an inhabited area in Lothlorien for Elves of the golden leafed Mallorn trees and they are chief dwellers.

This track is full of golden nuggets like vocal contrary-motion harmonies, unexpected modulations, overuse of semitones in melodic line and a certain oriental earthiness?? ……sorry if that is not correct but as a reviewer I must say what comes to me!! The opener of perfect-5ths in metallic like twang serves as a great statement, like the gateway to Kiev! The onset of cellos in perfectly shaped rhythms really is clever and creative. David has insisted on the ‘glockenspiel’ to add that touch of gold and silver and to represent the fallen leaves of Mallorn trees. Talk about capturing audiences with sonic tapestries, they evoke every emotion. Hans Zimmer and Vangelis will really enjoy these dramatic compositions.

Track 7. “Fanghorn Forest” #percussive #tribal #earthy #epic #fantasyworld

Let me tell you what’s going on here! Wow! Echoes within wooded percussion in frenzied yet concentrated play set the scene. 4 note string phrases gently lead us into a forest clearing where a beautiful and lone harp talks about her emotions. A reverse cymbal wave zooms in on the action as a native American flute flutters it’s perfect 5ths and echoes around this mysterious wooded glade. Shakers and bead wraps ever so slightly out of time say “I’ll play when I want to thank you very much!” A door opens but quickly closes again. Deep male vocals from under the earth very much reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean. French Horns resolve suspended 4ths achingly beautifully and again the repeat of 4 note riffs from strings but this time on the 4th note unexpectedly taking us in a different direction. Plays with the mind. A fade out so long that we hardly notice it happening, then the sound is gone. Beautiful.

Track 8. “The Great River — The Argonath” #epicorchestral #symphonyorchestra #powerful #cinematic

This pulsating and energetic current moves forward with great pace like an orchestral ostinato, fills me with the tension of stretto. It gallops like the best of the grand national in the UK. Patterns crossover each other in waiting but with no patience here. Enormous gongs sound before a welcome half fermata. Is that a pipe organ I hear??? well a great river deserves a great instrument, and it’s not too overpowering, just in great taste. Oh yes, and I haven’t forgotten the somewhat mournful oboe that tells me something’s not right. It’s not often you hear harpists play in unison octaves but here they are in this great track. It’s like everyone’s trying to get in front of each other, creates a feeling of anxiety and race and here the choppy strings ‘staccato’ hold the reigns. The sheer energy in this piece is breathtaking. Bravo!

Track 9. “Shadowfax and the White Rider” #galloping #forwardmotion #anthemic #orchestral #grand

It’s no wonder that this album has gone to N0.1 on the Amazon music charts, and yet more evidence of the scope of this composer David Arkenstone. What an impressive compositional range. This particular track is again one of the lead singles. It reminds me a bit of track 8 energy wise and again the strings play a 5 note ground bass rolling on rota, while the french horns sweep overhead, taking in the view. The sound builds even more and ‘claves’ nip at the horses hooves, biting in time. This energy is now on land and not water as previously told. Then a shock of a change…….a harpsichord on acid, or maybe something like a hammered dulcimer dances it’s Celtic brace, everyone stops to witness this. Later on an eagle soars above with a native American flute phrase stored in it’s mighty beak, he unleashes with great beauty and majesty. We canter on for a while, then there endeth the 4.09.

Track 10. “The Forbidden Pool” #sadmusic #emotional #verboteatn #watery

Here shines a ‘watery soundscape’ in homage to all river spirits who appear in and out of misty and dark shadows as if forbidden from entering this mysterious pool. You can really tell that David has been steeped in several decades of Tolkienite and feeling totally swept away. What a great and perfect escape!

mmmm……..a pool that is ‘verboten!!’ …..I wait in wonderment. Well the tremolando strings tell almost what I need to know, come forth at your peril. This spacious soundscape has a mouth the size of a cave, terrifying. Oooh, a little repetitive harp motif has instantly calmed me and I recognize it’s shape of beauty, on the piano in the left hand only this fingering pattern would be 5, 3, then topped in a 2&1 minor third, and straight away I am transported to the English Tudor period and Henry the 8th performing ‘Greensleeves’ …….it’s sad that this has never been proved, but I like it that way in my heart of hearts!! Lovely oboe work with harp in tandem embrace the high vocal work too, and again with wordless spirit. In a way, I would have been perfectly happy to have had a track consisting of oboe and harp, and I did not want it to end, in actual fact when the strings came in yet again I felt a little bored, sorry to have to say that!!

Track. 11. “Minus Morgul” #scary #deadly #deep #terrifying

On first listening I’m full of fear as a deep darkness awaits me. A massive GONG made in hell goes off setting us up for imminent war. Staccato scrapings from cellos and double basses let loose their rosin clouds as they march slowly towards doomstown. Ah, a trombone made from wood collected from the dead sea makes itself known, and tries to fight off an Angler-Fish where God makes all his mistakes! I am instantly reminded of Gustav Holst’s Planet of War but with added grumbling of deep dark chanting words with mouths full of poison. The lid of a giant coffin slowly opens, creaking in it’s ghostly surroundings and where the largest brass instrument from Tuba -dom reaches it’s very lowest note, I can’t listen to anymore as my heart is beating so fast, I think you get my gist!!!

Track 12. “The White Tree of Gondor” #vocalcounterpoint #round #sombre #oboeandharp #beautifulorchestrations

I wonder whether David has studied the ‘contrapuntal-style’ of the Baroque Period, the only reason I say this is that the moment of female wordless vowels make themselves known, I am transported into a crazy blend of Lauridsen and counterpoint singing, like a ‘round’ beginning or something?? Very soothing, elegant and I really wanted the singing to carry on for much longer, and in a way this may have supported the image of tree vascularity, virgin-like and embryonic in colour. The tree’s leafy depths are coloured by ghostly but beautiful orchestrations, sombre in places and pulled by the cellos and lower viola notes in melody. Long and sweeping in technique. Ooooh, a pretty flute sings like a little bird, maybe with it’s nest in the tree of Gondor. Call and Response lead my ears to the conclusion that a mum and baby are carrying on the musical conversation. Very lovely indeed.

I must thank David for the ample use of the French Horn throughout this album, because it is one of my favourite sounds in the whole world!! …..and he doesn’t disappoint here. Briefly the ‘ensemble’ shrinks before closing with sweet oboe and harp resolving in the Major like a Tierce de Picardy, nice touch.

Track 13. “The Houses of Healing” #hopeand healing #lightexpression #waltz #reflection

A beautiful instrument of harpsichord type plectrum, twangy, mechanical, snagging in accompaniment. I feel optimistic and light and a solo violin beckons in all who wants to be healed, and washed gently by swathes of female echoes, overlapping in strength and vitality. At the entrance of a clearing where the little houses of healing encircle, a ritualistic waltz is danced by the elders. Singing in unison with instruments promoting empowerment and precious memories of good health. Moments of quiet reflection and meditation, so calming and embracing. Now every elven knows the recited words of healing and remedy. Beautiful track.

Final Track 14. “The Returning” #fullcircle #strident #urgent #booming

What a captivating and all encompassing track! Meeting itself via full circle on a journey well trodden and so welcome now. I feel at peace of knowing this. Controlled wordless vocals with harmonies from heaven itself set the scene beautifully, very classical in shape. Oboe and harp sound their song full of promise, for the last time, repeating and devoted. (all the best composers repeat, I mean look at Mozart). Phrases are allowed to breathe between episodes, and the silence cleverly introduces.

Now, here we go!……we’re off! A strident and urgent galloping starts. Violins and violas play a 4 note riff, repeated over and over, heading us all in the right direction and punctuated by booming drums and Timpani rolls, such energy and mirrored light. This ‘returning’ couldn’t be more exciting! Tribal flutes deliver air and breathe for us. Am loving the potion of long and sweeping melodic strings against the scratchy ostinato, gathering much momentum now. The crashing of cymbals add to the epic and cinematic feel and the hairs on my forearms are standing on end!! Book ended song closes the gate now all have returned safe and sound in hearts and minds. Bravo David Arkenstone!! Calm and peace restored.

Well it just remains to congratulate some of the key contributors to this album namely violinist Luanne Homzy, vocalist Jillian Aversa, artwork Robert Zico and publishers Dream Palace and last but not least BMI.

Thanks also go to Beth Ann Hilton for recommending me to write this review.

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Kerry Barnes

Kerry Barnes

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Hi Everybody! My name is Kerry and I’m a musician and composer from the UK. I write for piano, choirs, dance, radio, exams, broadcasting / reviewing.