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Renaissance - Scheherazade and Other Stories CD (album) cover

SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER STORIES

Renaissance

 

Symphonic Prog

4.31 | 1304 ratings

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jamesbaldwin
Prog Reviewer
5 stars This opera is a great surprise. To my ears is an absolute masterpiece of contemporary music.

But let's go in order.

Side A.

1) Trip to the Fair. Beginning marked by a piano (John Tout) playing anxious notes in a classical style and in fact the lyrics of the song are gothic. Anyway, what a beauty! The progression of the piano is fantastic and is reminiscent of cultured music (Chopin?). The choirs at first solemn then become infernal, and in the meantime the progression on the piano is repeated several times, always the same, but accompanied by a rhythmic crescendo of the arrangements, the music becomes a march and then finally at 3 minutes and 45 seconds, after a few notes of xylophone, we can hear Haslam's vocals, beautifully punctuated with his distinctly English accent. So far, we have always stayed on the initial melody, which is repeated three times until finally there is a harmonic progression, towards what could be a refrain, were it not that it is not repeated. A jazz piece follows with xylophone and piano which leads to a climax with a solemn choir. The initial melody is back, sung again by Haslam but deformed by a circus arrangement that takes over in the instrumental ending. Masterpiece. Rated 8.5 / 9

2) The Vultures Fly High. Three-minute rhythmic song where the rhythm section and the strings are the protagonists. Haslam manages to produce a more dynamic interpretation than his standards. The song's only flaw is its brevity. Rated 7.5.

3) Ocean Gypsy. Wonderful start with acoustic guitar arpeggio, keyboard and Haslam's angelic voice to outline a very catchy melancholy melody which then goes into a major key, with a wonderful progression. We are at some truly remarkable melodic peaks. After the epic instrumental interlude, with a grandiose orchestral crescendo (Tony Cox) with solemn choirs, comes the third verse, to perfectly complete this masterpiece. Haslam's voice, arcane and beautifully British (ie folk) gives the whole piece a very refined accent. Many prog groups produce virtuosity or whimsical refined compositions but they are not able throughout their career to churn out a simple melodic song as beautiful as this one. Rated 9.

Side B

4. Song of Scheherazade (24:52) : - a) Fanfare (2:37) - b) The Betrayal (4:55) - c) The Sultan (2:46) - d) Love Theme (2:29) - e) The Young Prince and Princess as Told by Scheherazade (4:04) - f) Festival Preparations (1:07) - g) Fugue for the Sultan (2:12) - h) The Festival (2:12) - i) Finale (2:30)

a, b, c. The suite, which traces a famous Persian parable, after a fiatistic Intro comes alive with a galloping instrumental piece where the strings and the drums of Terence Sullivan emerge. In the third section, more relaxed and exotic, the choirs arrive and then the singing of Jon Camp, soloist or accompanied by Annie Haslam. Overall, the first movement is divided into three short, rather rhythmic sections where you can hear the grandeur of the orchestra. The music is always beautiful but does not reach the peaks of the first side. Rated 8.

d, e, f. The second movement opens with a classic piano piece by John Tout, perhaps the musician who most characterizes the sound of this album, to which the orchestra is added, mainly the strings. In the second section we finally hear the folk voice of Annie Haslam singing the love between the prince and the princess. This relaxed atmosphere lit by her singing is reminiscent of Ocean Gypsy and in fact the quality of the music has risen. The winning key of this group is: romantic melody + voice of Haslam + piano of Tout + arrangement (strings and rhythm section, with the bass of Camp making virtuosity). The sung piece could continue but is sacrificed in favor of the composition, which provides an evocative instrumental interlude with an oriental flavor worthy of a Tchaikovsky ballet, then the music changes completely and, guided by Tout's piano, it seems to become a jazz opera in Gershwin's style, with an excellent crescendo. The work of integration between folk instruments and the London Symphony Orchestra is remarkable. In the end the evocative atmosphere returns, guided by a wind instrument that I cannot identify. This instrumental section is perhaps the highlight of the suite. The second movement is great. Rated 9.

g, h, i. The third movement begins with another instrumental section worthy of cultured music, this time it reminds me of Dvorak's symphony From the New World. Then Annie Haslam's voice returns to elaborate the final part of the narration, which then increases in the last section. It seems incredible but the defect of this suite seems to me mainly the fact that the music does not have enough time to expand (as in the two long tracks of side A) leaving Annie Haslam's singing little space to give the best of her. In this suite there is a narrative need to produce many sections with different moods: the compositional work is refined but moving from one section to another in relatively short time removes some pathos. Rated 8,5.

Song of Sheherazade: Rated 8.5 / 9

We are facing a masterpiece, a flawless album that stands as the definitive symphonic pop-folk work. On the first side, the Renaissance churn out two mini-suites based on enchanting melodies. In the second, a suite of almost 25 minutes where they demonstrate a high-class compositional and arranging ability.

Haslame's voice and Tout's piano together with the strings create a unique sound, the rhythm section keeps pace and Camp performs virtuosity on the bass. Dunford stands on the sidelines but is the real genius being the author of much of the composition.

Absolute masterpiece. 9,5/10. Five Stars.

jamesbaldwin | 5/5 |

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