Asni, Travels in Middle-earth (CD 2007) [self-released] Now that the Peter Jackson film craze (and the deluge of music triggered by it) has subsided somewhat, more thoughtful and sustained interpretations of Tolkien's world are beginning to emerge. One recently recorded specimen is German-born/New Zealand-based harpist and musicologist, Asni's, soon-to-be-released Travels in Middle-earth.

A medley of original compositions, arrangements of early music and folk melodies, and renditions of Howard Shore, Travels comprises twenty-five vignettes grouped around thematic headings such as "Rivendell," "Into Darkness" and "Echoes of Beleriand." Accented by recordings of nature sounds gathered during visits to various NZ film locations, and adorned with handsome artwork by John Howe, Asni has delivered the Tolkien music aficionado an elegant evocation of Middle-earth.

A Middle-earth album inhabited predominantly by traditional rather than original pieces is likely to arouse suspicion from some quarters, and even provoke dismissal as "false advertising." And to be sure, since 2001 there have been plenty of self-proclaimed "Tolkien-inspired" CDs that turn out to be anything but. Travels, however, is not one of these. On the contrary, Asni has selected a repertoire that effectively captures the same sense of an "imagined past" that grounds Tolkien's legendarium. (One is reminded in this connection of the early music used as background for Nicol Williamson's 1974 dramatic reading of The Hobbit.)

The richness of this repertoire lies not only in its stylistic diversity, but also in its cultural breadth, drawing inspiration from Spain and Estonia no less than England and Ireland (not to mention New Zealand and Gambia). Most welcome to this reviewer's ear is Asni's ability to include Celtic themes without allowing them to dominate the album. This musical journey spans the whole of Middle-earth, not just one corner of it. Shore himself adopted a similar strategy in scoring the films (with mixed results). In my opinion, Asni's translations of Shore from an orchestral to a solo harp idiom - in the context of the larger tapestry she has woven - actually achieves this sense of arresting distance better than Shore. Or maybe it's just that Shore has become too familiar after the umpteenth listen.

Kudos to Asni.

Reviewer: Chris Seeman
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