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Renaissance - Live At Carnegie Hall CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.26 | 225 ratings

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4 stars Anyone looking for an overview of Annie Haslam's first four albums with Renaissance could do worse than start here as it is effectively a 'Best Of', recorded live with the aid of choir and orchestra in front of an enthusiastic, but not intrusive, audience. It can hardly be beaten as a showcase for the band's unique blend of symphonic Prog song structures, orchestral and acoustic instruments, flavours of classical, jazz and folk styles rubbing shoulders with its rock baseline, and Annie's unique [in its field] voice. And they barely put a foot wrong!

In those days, Renaissance was one of the few band's able to reproduce a studio sound almost note perfect in the live arena. Which leaves us with something of a dilemma - the performances here are so slick, so professional, that really there are few differences from the studio originals. With one or two exceptions, you have to dig very deep indeed to be aware of those differences as mostly they are quite subtle. A preference for one or the other [ie live or studio version] is ultimately determined by personal experience and background rather than anything intrinsic to the performance.

As someone who has lived with this music for over thirty-plus years, it gets to the stage where you pick little pieces out - "I like this bit from this album, but I like the way they did that bit on the other album". So, for example, the long coda of Ashes Are Burning is brilliant, but it would have been so much more powerful had the organ been brought forward in the mix. In Running Hard, the orchestra is so majestic and a solo violin in the 'running' instrumental is damn near perfect, but on returning to the slow vocal a short bass phrase is played only once. I also feel Mother Russia is played a fraction too slow. Arrangements are all faithful to the original versions, with virtually no deviation except for the instrumental sections of Prologue and Ashes Are Burning. It is nice that the crowd gets behind Camp's bass solo session which makes this one a little more palatable than the King Biscuit set.

The thing that attracts me to live albums is the ambience of a live performance, complete with audience involvement, and a heightened sense of emotion that can engender in an artist. Often it can offer a new perspective on a musical work, a fresh insight into some facet that may have developed since its inception. Live At Carnegie Hall fails in that respect: the performance is so technically accurate that it seldom offers anything new, and occasionally detracts, from much loved studio originals. It has atmosphere, but not enough of the other elements to raise it onto a pedestal.

Having said that, the album is an astonishing achievement, an ideal blend of studio 'perfection' with live ambience and a recording quality to match, albeit a little 'soft' by today's standards. As a body of music it can hardly be faulted and it certainly contains near definitive versions of Prologue, Can You Understand?, Running Hard and Ashes Are Burning. Personally, I find the studio versions of Song Of Scheherazade, Ocean Gypsy and Mother Russia to be more fulfilling and detailed, but that doesn't detract from the overall achievement. Certainly a legend, and a vital purchase for all fans of 1970s symphonic Prog.

Joolz | 4/5 |


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