Paul Corfield Godfrey, Akallabęth and Other Tolkien Works (CD 2017) Prima Facie Records

In the annals of Tolkien-inspired music, Paul Corfield Godfrey is the proverbial oliphaunt in the closet. Over the course of a distinguished half-century career, he has written no fewer than seventeen opera related to Tolkien's legendarium, making him one of the most prolific composers in the genre. Indeed, were these works to be performed in toto, their cumulative duration would exceed Howard Shore's soundtracks to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by many CDs. But alas, Godfrey's musical vision has gone largely unsung and unheard.

Until now.

Thanks to the efforts of UK-based Prima Facie Records (a classical sub-label of ASC Records), a first glimpse of Godfrey's sprawling achievement is now available. Akallabęth and Other Tolkien Works enlists a septet of talented musicians led by world-class pianist Immanuel Carl Maria Vogt to realize four offerings from Godfrey's repertoire. The result is a diverse ensemble of musical pathways into the heart of Tolkien's sub-creation.

Heading the menu is "Daeron Op. 45," a dialogue of piano and flute that evokes the titular minstrel's heart-panged search for his lost Lúthien. The ponderous pace of this piece effectively communicates Daeron's interminable and ultimately futile wanderings, but it also-to this reviewer's ear-captures Tolkien's arresting image of Lúthien dancing "to music of a pipe unseen." Godfrey's composition gives acuity to that memorable line.

Next comes "Tolkien Songs Op. 9," vocalized settings of Strider ("All that is gold…"), Song of the Eagle ("Sing and be glad…"), Alive without Breath (Gollum's riddle), Drinking Song ("Ho-Ho-Ho to the bottle I go…"), In Western Lands, and the iconic Roads Go Ever On. Alternating among soprano, tenor, and baritone, this sampling invites the listener to savor the simplicity and aesthetic power of Tolkien's wordcraft.

Shifting from the core of the legendarium to its outliers, we are treated to a vocalized setting of "Shadow-Bride Op. 33." In contrast to other musical interpretations of this poem by Intermezzo (In Fool Color, 1991) and Caprice (Elvenmusic 2, 2003), Godfrey's rendition strikes a tensive balance between the melodic and the macabre that is as entrancing as the lyrics, masterfully delivered by soprano Tara McSwiney.

The most ambitious Tolkien-related piece on this album is the eponymous "Akallabęth Op. 42," a seventeen-minute symphonic poem in rondo form that aurally traces the story of Númenor's glorious rise and tragic fall. Executed by British pianist Connor Fogel, this solo performance adds gravitas to Tolkien's oft-recounted dream of the primordial wave enveloping the land.

This album is testimony to the profound impact Tolkien's art has had on a handful of contemporary classical composers who have answered his wish that "other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama" should become his "partners in making and delight" in leading the listener to an experience of enchantment. We can only hope that more of Godfrey's work will be recorded in the near future.

REVIEWER: Chris Seeman (