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Höstsonaten - Symphony N.1 - Cupid & Psyche CD (album) cover



Rock Progressivo Italiano

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars If there is any doubt about Fabio Zuffanti being a prog icon, the disbelievers have some kind of chip on their shoulder! This gifted Italian bassist/composer owns a distinguished career one could only dream about, fronting Finisterre back in the late 90s, recharging the dormant RPI School once so prolific in the 70s and then consolidating the legacy with the splendid La Maschera di Cera project. His list of contributions and projects is endless but there was one project that simply just took off like wildfire, Hostsonaten having begun its life as a one shot self-titled endeavour in 1997, drawing universally positive reviews. The four seasons on four separate albums was a veritable tour de force, a modern day Giuseppe Verdi. Both 'Winterthrough' and 'Summereve' were spectacular classics, while 'Springsongs' and 'Autumn Symphony' were totally tasty in their own right. The chemistry has evolved around the keyboard chair with first Boris Valle, then Roberto Viggo, Agostino Macor and now Luca Scherani, all extremely talented keyboardists that have the talent to imprint fresh symphonic ideas into the creative process. Thus the impetus to continue creating lavish works remains invigorated and positive.

The main theme here is decidedly neo-classical , aided by an outright string quartet section, some brass and woodwinds in full regalia, all determined to elevate the arrangements to new heights. On the windswept 'Zephyr', the spirited musicians adopt a sterling vibe full of immense bravado and delirium, highlighted by drummer Paolo Tixi killing it on the skins while Scherani molests his synths with passionate resolve. Italy is the home of romanticism, a mindset splattered all over their glorious culture and when 'amore' becomes the focus, the artful methodology comes oh so naturally, as on the palpitating 'Love Scene', featuring profound emotion (as the gifted Laura Marsano rips off another seductive axe solo), a truly magnificent piece of solemn beauty, allied with some reflective piano and delicate flute. Things do get dissonant and complex with whipping mellotron blasts rivaling the brass section in a stop and go dance that defies logic and suddenly gets real hot under the collar, swerving into very orchestral realms that are insistent, jangled and grandiose. Sofia Bartolini's obsessive bassoon does wonders weaving between Scherani's various ivories, furthered along by Joanne Roan's magical flute. On 'Venus First Trial', the mood is very classical orchestra that slowly veers towards a more rock approach, colossal mellotron waves smashing into the electric guitar, strong brass support and the spotlight rests on some stellar sax work that recalls Traffic's Chris Wood on 'Glad'. This endless ebb and flow between classical music in the shape of string quartet and piano on one hand and the more pugnacious RPI delivery led by strong rhythmic work and searing soloing from both electronic keyboards and electric guitars is what makes this work so compelling. Things also get funky with Scherani's e-piano, linked with some judicious brass work and tick-tack drum patterns, proving that these musicians know a thing or two about soul and feeling. Then having the smarts to blend in both mellotrons and orchestra proves my point perfectly. Then letting Marsano have some bluesy fun on her sexy guitar pushes the pleasure level even higher, keeping the listener constantly stimulated. Then giving the spotlight on Scherani to delve into his keyboard arsenal and let his fingers do the walking and talking ('The Awakening'), playing dipsy-doodle with an errant oboe before laying down some heady cascades of 'tron. A perfect example of instrumental symphonic RPI prog !

Another stellar chapter in the ongoing Hostsonaten discography, a step up from the previous 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', we are witness to a slew of incredibly gifted musicians enjoying the style they so obviously adore.

4.5 troubled cherubs

Report this review (#1575563)
Posted Sunday, June 5, 2016 | Review Permalink
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Whether it's the luscious all instrumental four-album `Seasons' cycle or bombastic classical- influenced rock-operas such as `The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and its live interpretation `Alive in Theatre', Hostsonaten has always been the most purely symphonic project modern Italian progressive music icon Fabio Zuffanti is involved in, and he and his music collaborators here return in 2016 with `Symphony N. 1: Cupid and Psyche'. Zuffanti and his musical friends, including La Coscienza di Zeno's keyboardist Luca Scherani, Laura Marsano on classical and electric guitars, Paolo `Paolo' Tixi on drums and Danielle Sollo on fretted and fretless bass, are backed up by multi- member brass and woodwind sections as well as a string quartet, and without a doubt they've delivered one of the most proudly grandiose, extravagant and bombastic symphonic Italian works of the year!

`Cupid and Psyche' was a story originally written in the 2nd century AD by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis, concerning the overcoming of obstacles to the love between the above two characters and their ultimate union in a sacred marriage. The tale has not only been frequently retold in poetry, drama and opera, but depicted widely in painting and sculpture, and it makes for an ideal inspiration for the frequently theatrical and classical-flavoured style that Italian prog-rock is so often renowned for.

The album forms a continuous suite of instrumental music, and looking at some of the highlights, opener `The Sacrifice' blends skipping violin, triumphant horns and rollicking drums with whirring synth trills, and Mellotron and violin weave together dramatically with snapping up-tempo fanfare runs and spiralling synth soloing throughout `Zephyr'. Unsurprisingly with its title, `Love Scene' is a deeply romantic and softly swooning theme that would have fit right at home on any of the above- mentioned `Seasons' albums, and the extended guitar solo in the second half reminds instantly of the Flower Kings' Roine Stolt and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. `Unmasking' fleetingly reminds of Osanna with its mix of heavier guitars, dominating Mellotron with call-and-response horn duels and intimidating orchestration, but the second half turns acoustic with reflective prettiness.

There are four pieces that then make up the `Trial' movement - `Venus (1st Trial)' is often playfully mischievous with an approaching tension, `Entrapped (2nd Trail)' is a sobering piano, flute, violin and classical guitar rumination that rises in dignity with subtle orchestration, the sprightly `Sheep and Water (3rd Trail)' surprisingly grooves with jazzy electric piano dashes and soaring orchestral flights of fancy, and `Underworld (4th Trial)' is excited and full of liveliness, culminating in immaculate Pink Floyd-like weeping bluesy guitar strains over carefully humming Hammond organ before roaring to life in the powerful finale. `The Awakening' instantly launches into a Moog- powered sprint with a heavy driving beat and scratchy Mellotron, and the joyfully stirring `The Ascension' is a dashing reprise of perfectly fused rock and orchestra unity to finish on.

For such an epic undertaking, it's actually a welcome relief to find that `Symphony n. 1' is a forty- four minute vinyl-length release, often broken into shorter passages that together mean the album can be given plenty of replays without an overwhelming length becoming too intimidating. Some will find the album impossibly stuffy, pompous and self-indulgent (but hey, pretty sure that's what a lot of prog-fans are here for!), but lovers of the grandest of progressive rock styles will find this to be luxurious symphonic prog at its very finest, one of Hostsonaten's grandest artistic statements to date, and certainly one of the most sophisticated Italian releases of 2016.

Four and a half stars.

Report this review (#1610677)
Posted Tuesday, September 13, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars My first foray into Italian record shops was on a trip to the Veneto in 2005 when there were two stores in Venice and another a short train ride away in Treviso. In those days I was aided by Jerry Lucky's Progressive Rock Files (Collector's Guide Publishing, 2000) when I'd scour entries for remarks like "if you're a fan of PFM then you'll like this" and, following up a reference to Celeste that described them as "influenced by early King Crimson but their sound is very original. You'll hear elements of Genesis circa Trespass and even bits of PFM's Per un Amico. A very beautiful, symphonic pastoral result. Lots of Mellotron. One of the genre's highly rated bands" I began to seek out their 1976 release Principe di un giorno and looked for references to Celeste in the listings. One of these was Finisterre, described as "Symphonic progressive rock with long tracks containing restrained hints of bands like Celeste or Banco. They've chosen to create a moody and atmospheric sound that relies more on the classical style than neo-prog. Long passages of dissonant harmonies and jazzy chord voicings". It wasn't until I updated to Lucky's The Progressive Rock Handbook (Collector's Guide Publishing, 2008), that I heard of Höstsonaten and La Maschera di Cera and was able to fathom out the relationship between them. I began to collect La Maschera di Cera CDs in 2009 and Finisterre CDs some time later but it wasn't until 2014 that I bought my first Höstsonaten release, the 2012 CD and DVD of the live performance of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Unable to play the CD, bought at 2014's Prog Résiste festival where Fabio Zuffanti and the Z Band were playing, it was experiencing a live version of Rainsuite (from Winterthrough, 2008) at that gig that really turned me on to Höstsonaten, revealing a very symphonic progressive rock style that Zuffanti himself equated with The Enid. Zuffanti's projects are all essential listening for fans of the original progressivo Italiano movement and though I really enjoy Maschera di Cera's albums for their modern take on the original genre, remaining true to the spirit of the work of bands like PFM and Banco, the instrumental work by Höstsonaten comes closest to symphonic rock and the Enid comparison is well founded.

I pre-ordered a vinyl copy of Symphony N. 1 Cupid & Psyche and followed the story as it was released chapter by chapter, raising my expectations. When I finally got hold of the LP I was not disappointed. The music was conceived by Zuffanti but he stepped away from the limelight and his only instrumental credits are for bass pedals, 'treatments and devices', leaving Zuffanti collaborator Luca Scherani (La Coscienza di Zeno, La Curva di Lesmo) to handle the arrangements and orchestrations in addition to playing keyboards; guitar, bass and drums are provided by long-term Zuffanti associates Laura Marano, Daniele Sollo and Paolo Tixi respectively. There are many precedents of full orchestration in progressive rock and progressivo Italiano has some very notable examples including the New Trolls' Concerto Grosso (1971, 1976, 2007) and Contaminazione by Il Rovescio della Medaglia (1973) but enhancing the symphonic scope of Höstsonaten seemed like a logical step, one true to the principles of progressive rock as it attempted to bridge the gap between high and popular culture. The melange of influences that inform their output, their RPI predecessors, jazz and Mediterranean folk are enhanced with inspiration from Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.

I've thought quite hard about other orchestrated prog albums and there aren't many that genuinely seamlessly blend the rock and the orchestral moments; the pieces by Keith Emerson with the Nice were predominantly divided into distinct sections, band then orchestra then band. There are times when Yes' Magnification (2001) works well but this mostly comes across as orchestra instead of keyboards and has hints of Tony Cox's arrangements on Time and a Word (1970). I find the most satisfying orchestrated pieces of progressive rock to be Camel's Music Inspired by the Snow Goose (1975) and, stretching the point a little, Mike Oldfield's Hergest Ridge (1974). In terms of orchestration in progressivo Italiano, Passio Secondum Mattheum by Latte e Miele (1972) works well, but I think that Höstsonaten have come up with one of the most balanced mixes of rock and orchestra that at times reminds me of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (1970) and the eponymous 1972 release by Il Paese dei Balocchi. Laura Marano provides some epic, melodic Gilmour-like guitar lines but it's the inclusion of classic prog keyboards, Moog, Mellotron, organ and piano which fit in so neatly with the strings and brass that bestow a sense of harmonious union between the classical and the rock instrumentation. Not surprisingly, there are refrains that hint of Höstsonaten's previous output and it goes without saying that the execution is consummate.

Another important link with the foundation of the genre is the appropriation of myth as subject matter (c.f. Genesis and The Fountain of Salmacis) with Zuffanti utilising the Apuleius story Metamorphoses. A translation by author, columnist and philosopher Pee Gee Daniel, providing a synopsis of the chapters that make up the ten tracks, is included in the gatefold sleeve.

La Maschera di Cera produced one of my all time favourite albums Lux Ade (2006) based on the Orpheus story, but that was an entirely rock affair; Höstsonaten ventured into composing for a theatrical performance with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Cupid & Psyche is a realisation of Zuffanti's dream to create a symphonic suite with group and orchestra that is also able to serve as the soundtrack for a ballet, in the manner of Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky. Beginning with an array of musical ideas suitable for the project and enlisting Luca Scherani to create a score for string, wind and brass instruments, the album easily succeeds in presenting a coherent piece of symphonic progressive rock which also fulfils the criterion of a ballet score; the piece was given its live premier on October 22nd 2016 at the Teatro Rina e Gilberto Govi, Genoa, with the ballet under the direction of choreographer Paola Grazzis.

A highly anticipated return four years after the previous studio record and a further confirmation of the robust state of health of the Italian prog scene, the amazing creativity of Fabio Zuffanti and Luca Scherani shines through in Höstsonaten's Cupid & Psyche. Four and a half stars

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Posted Sunday, May 17, 2020 | Review Permalink

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