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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) Andrew Lloyd Webber: Variations album cover
3.80 | 50 ratings | 3 reviews | 38% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1978

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Introduction (1:12)
2. Theme (Paganini Caprice In A Minor No. 24) And Variations 1-4 (3:02)
3. Variations 5 And 6 (3:10)
4. Variation 7 (1:48)
5. Variation 8 (1:17)
6. Variation 9 (1:30)
7. Variation 10 (2:18)
8. Variations 11-15 (Including The Tributes) (3:44)
9. Variation 16 (2:26)
10. Variations 13-14 Varied (1:52)
11. Variation 17 (1:08)
12. Variation 18 (2:55)
13. Variations 19, 20 And 6 Varied (3:00)
14. Variations 21 And 22 (1:56)
15. Variation 23 (2:40)

Total time 33:58

Line-up / Musicians

- Andrew Lloyd Webber / synthesizers, composer & producer

- Don Airey / grand piano, Fender Rhodes, synths (ARP Odyssey, MiniMoog, Solina String Ensemble)
- Rod Argent / grand piano, synths (MiniMoog, Roland RS 202, Yamaha CS80)
- Dave Caddick / piano
- Gary Moore / guitars (Gibson Les Paul, Rickenbacker electric 12-string, Guild acoustic, Fender Stratocaster)
- Barbara Thomson / flutes, alto & tenor saxophones
- Julian Lloyd Webber / cello
- John Mole / fretted & fretless basses
- Herbie Flowers / Bass
- Jon Hiseman / drums, gong, percussion
- Phil Collins / drums, percussion
- Bill Le Sage / vibes

Releases information

Artwork: Cream / Philippe Mercier's (1689-1760) "Frederick, Prince of Wales and his sisters"

LP MCA Records ‎- MCF 2824 (1978, UK)

CD Universal ‎- MCLD 19396 (1998, UK) Remastered by Chris Blair, Tris Penna

Thanks to Certif1ed for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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VARIOUS ARTISTS (CONCEPT ALBUMS & THEMED COMPILATIONS) Andrew Lloyd Webber: Variations ratings distribution

(50 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(38%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(36%)
Good, but non-essential (16%)
Collectors/fans only (4%)
Poor. Only for completionists (6%)


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Certif1ed
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Andrew Lloyd Webber?

Shurely Shome Mishtake?

But this is where you'd be wrong!

Consider this as a Colosseum II album with special guests, and music pre-composed by a promising young composer who had already written the world's first Rock Opera proper (Jesus Christ Superstar), and had, in all likelihood, inspired The Who to write their opus "Tommy" with his first Rock Operetta "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat".

This was not yet the writer of horrors like Cats, Phantom of the Opera et al, but a composer in the right place and time and with the right potential to have produced something great.

He was a bit late for Prog Rock's 1st wave, in which style this set is based, but that doesn't stop his Variations on a Theme of Paganini from being every bit a masterpiece as Rakhmaninov's - only a rock and roll version, ya dig?

It should be noted that the theme from Paganini's Caprice in A minor on which this set of Variations is built has also been variegated by composers and musicians as varied and notable as Schumann, Liszt, Brahms and Benny Goodman - so there are plenty of other sets to compare this one to.

Lloyd Webber's effort is not utterly flawless, but where it shines, it's the equal of the greatest prog tunes you can think of, and at it's worst, it's better than... well, I'd probably get into trouble for making direct comparisons, but I've heard Rick Wakeman produce worse material on more than one occasion, and at least Airey and Argent had the grace to keep the boxing gloves off, unlike certain Emersons of this world. And there's no equivalent of "More Fool Me" on here - in fact, hardly a note is wasted or used as filler.

In fact, in terms of execution, this album IS flawless - virtually every note perfectly in place, yet this is not a precision technical snorefest - it feels like a live rock band swinging into action; Nay! a PROG Rock band, as we have unusual instrumentation and a wide variety of styles making this a set of Variations that are arguably as good as those by any of the umpteen other composers who also wrote Variations on Paganini's Caprice - with blistering guitarwork from Gary Moore that wouldn't have impressed Paganini with it's speed, but would have blown his powdered wig off with it's intensity and smoked him out of his boots.

So, a long intro even by my standards - shall we get into the music?

A dark swirling mass of keyboards in the introduction gives way to the statement of the Caprice and Variations 1-4, AKA the theme to the South Bank Show (long- running UK TV show).

Julian Lloyd Webber leads the way with basic percussion - the juxtaposition of cello and drums works surprisingly well.

The lovely scrunchy piano entry that heralds the flute melody, seguing perfectly into a Moog squelchfest sets the scene for dramatically shifting music of a surprisingly wide pallete of tone colours and mini variations.

Variations 5 and 6 are a more acoustic affair, with an aching, wistful melody on the flute sensitively coloured by acoustic guitar and small electric guitar details, before opening into a broad, sweeping Cello theme... yes, you really can perform academic analysis on this music.

Variation 6 ends with a dark Moog using a low pedal to provide dramatic tension that builds amazingly into Variation 7, a complex riff fest with tight arhythmic percussion and atonal power chords in a brilliant prog rock style passage. The guitar solo that follows is the first nod towards the fireworks of Paganini, and is full of tension and dischord.

We mellow out a little with variation 8, and variation 9 is a more laid back, jazzy affair led by the sensual sax of Barbara Thompson.

Variation 10 appears to grow out of nowhere, with a spacey quality. The Cello takes the lead this time, with another wistful melody. The flute picks this up - and we can hear Lloyd Webbers show-tune writing abilities shining through.

While I'm not sure if the latter is a good thing or not, Variations 11-15 are more like it, with powerful guitar interspersed with keyboard, and twists and turns a-plenty. Despite the many tangents, Lloyd Webber expertly manages to maintain a coherent direction by keeping all the material related, and the twists and turns themselves morph into mini masterpieces that lesser bands would have dragged out for much longer - it seems you're just getting into one great idea, then everything changes. This is Variation writing as it was intended - and also Prog Rock as it should be played.

And now we allegedly return to Variation 16 - which is actually a variation of variation 7... Another delicious heavy riff is mashed up by Moog lines, then exposed and returned to. The main theme trickles through, but is broken down in a mini maelstrom of sound that maybe loses a little power by being so controlled and precise, but nevertheless maintains a momentum that is quite breathtaking. The ending to this variation is one of my favourite bits, so no spoilers here.

An alleged return to Variations 14-15 display yet more mastery at the form - earlier ideas are explored, developed, moved on from in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it-fest of compositional fireworks.

We then hop mysteriously into Variation 17. This is a Moog driven affair that sounds like it came out of the BBC Radiophonic workshop for an early episode of Dr Who - but loses nothing for it!

There were beautiful melodies in earlier variations, but Lloyd Webber has saved one of the best for Variation 18 - again taken up by his brother on the Cello with minimal backing from Moore and Mole. Around halfway through Moore takes up the melody and really shines with a wondrous guitar tone, but sadly the reins are returned to JLW to close the variation in syrupy style.

Next we have Variations 19, 20 and 6 (varied), another giddying, swirling demonstration of why this album is the Masterpiece I hold it to be. The main theme gets some prominence, but it is halted in its tracks before it can get going, and new material is presented before Variation 6 returns in majestrial glory.

But now I turn your attention swiftly to Variations 21 and 22. Gary Moore is allowed a free rein here, and dominates with aplomb. Variation 22 suddenly drops the music into a chasm with a surprisingly spacey sound given that the main instrument is the piano. Using motifs that hearken back to serialism, using quasi-cells or mini note- rows, flavours of Schoenberg create this dark feeling and underscore the fact that Lloyd Webber understood and had mastered a wide variety of compositional styles and had the potential to become a truly great composer of relevant art/rock material.

Variation 23 ends the set in pounding style, with Lloyd Webber turning in a performance that Paganini may have snickered at - but is most suitable for what is.

At the end of the day, this is a Prog Rock album with more than just pretensions to "Classical" music - it is rooted in just about every style contemporary in 1977/8 except punk rock and while it sounds "of its time", mainly due to the production, it is every bit as good as the Prog Rock album of your choice from 5 years earlier.

If you think Camel blended rock and orchestral well in "The Snow Goose" (which they did), Camel's sterling efforts pale into amateurish meandering in comparison to the masterful composisiton and arrangements presented here. Theme and Variations is one of the hardest compositional styles to master. This is a superb example of how it should be done.

Go Geddit - don't be ashamed to own this Andrew Lloyd Webber album!

Review by ProgressiveAttic
COLLABORATOR Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars I consider this album as a single and cohesive multi-movement composition and therefore I am going to review it as such.

First of all the musicians, they are all renown musical geniuses in their own instruments and genres. The main credits go to the Lloyd Webber brothers: Julian is a virtuoso cello player whose instrument is the central element of the music and Andrew the famous Broadway composer who is in charge of the composition, arrangement and some keyboards. Now the rest of the band:

Colosseum II: formed by blues guitar genius Gary Moore, Don Airey (actual Deep Purple keyboardist) one of the most talented and under-rated keyboardists in prog and the amazing jazz rhythm section of Hiseman and Mole.

The legendary Rod Argent (Argent) on keyboards.

Phil Collins another legend of prog behind the drums (Thank god!!!).

Barbara Thomson (Hiseman's wife) does a great job with the wind instruments.

+ Dave Caddick (piano), Herbie Flowers (bass) and Bill LeSage (vibes).

This is a very pompous and pretentious piece of music and that is precisely why I love it. The whole idea of turning a classical piece into rock is highly risky and when fully accomplished is quite amusing. For me it is as good as ELP's Pictures at an Exhibition and that is saying a lot. This Paganini piece was transformed to several styles from blues and hard rock to jazz, ballads and symphonic prog in a single piece of music without losing any coherence.... ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT (what would you expect from a supergroup like this?)

Total: 5!!!!!

Review by stefro
1 stars The kind of project which gives progressive rock - no, scratch that - all variations of classically-themed and symphonic rock as well as progressive music as whole, a very bad name indeed. Lloyd Webber, him of the commercially-lucrative mega musicals 'Jesus Christ Superstar', 'Phantom Of The Opera' and 'Starlight Express' that are so beloved by housewives, middle-class Tories, American tourists and people who don't particularly like music, has here produced an 'original' classical composition for both orchestra and rock band. The album, helpfully titled 'Variations'(thanks Andy), is split into 15 glutinous, cheese- heavy sections, in which a highly-skilled orchestra clash horribly with some of their rock colleagues. The cast list on the 'rock' side raises a few eyebrows, too(not the only time eyebrows are raised in relation to this album) with such innovative progressive stalwarts as ex-Colosseum and Tempest drummer Jon Hiseman, current(as of late 2011) Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey, Zombies and Argent founder Rod Argent, guitar hero and former Thin Lizzy axeman Gary Moore and the one-and-only former Genesis vocalist and drummer Phil Collins forever staining their impressive CV's with this embarrassing crap. The success of the album, which also features Andrew's cellist brother Julian, proves to be yet another eyebrow raiser, as 'Variations' was released in 1978, slap-bang in the slipstream of the yobbish and anarchic anti-music punk-rock movement, which hints towards the kind of person who was purchasing this album. Obviously, those with a penchant for classical music may find this right up their street but it's really rather worrying to see fans of Emerson, Lake & Palmer - who of course adapted many classical compositions within a rock framework - claiming this as some kind of high watermark of progressive rock's classically- tinted sub-genre. To put it mildly: this is not genuine prog rock. It's ersatz, glutinous, third- rate classical pomp rock made by a musical theatre magnate who always has one beady eye on the commercial viability on any and every project he is involved in. His idea of 'rock' music amounts to little more than sub-Foreigner pop-rock, with his many hit shows a testament to that. Of course, the beauty of music(and of living in the Western, democratised world) is that it is completely subjective; no-one really has good taste, no one actually has bad taste. No-one should be ashamed of the music hey listen to whether it be Frank Zappa, Tom Jones, Atomic Kitten or Beyonce. However, there is one small exception that proves this universal rule: Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Variations', a pile of dated, pseudo-progressive and utterly-appalling classical-rock junk that shames it's large and impressive cast of top- notch musicians. Sorry guys, but this dire excuse of an album really is the(musical) pits. STEFAN TURNER, LONDON, 2011

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