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Imaginaerium - The Rise of Medici CD (album) cover





4.03 | 19 ratings

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4 stars The Florentine family originated north of Florence in the Murello region of Tuscany, gradually growing into a powerhouse of politics, religion, textiles, and banking, eventually producing four Popes of the Catholic Church. The family claimed to have funded the invention of both opera and the piano, helping in the construction of St-Peter's Basilica and wealthy donators to careers as illustrious as Boticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Galileo, among may others. Catherine de Medici would become Queen of France, famous for her rather ruthless persecution of the Calvinist Protestants or Huguenots. As much as I adore history, this is a music channel and therefore the relevance here is that we have a good old- fashioned source of progressive themes that can only encourage the musicians to further define their craft within a well-expressed storyline. Legendary keyboardist and arranger Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Arena, Caamora, ) and multi- instrumentalist Eric Bouillette (Nine Skies, Solace Supplice, ) are the main composers and players , with as befitting an opera, added input from a series of vocalists the incredible Laura Piazzai, Andy Sears of Twelfth Night , Elena Vladyuk and Mark Spencer. Scott Higham on drums, Isabella Campini on harp and bassist Bernard Hery complete the line-up.

This is a vocal heavy work with the focus clearly on the rambling and epic story, perhaps more ideally suited for a full stage performance with medieval costumes, full orchestra and band, crimson velvet curtains and generously tossed bouquets of flowers at the end. The CD comes with a 28-page libretto, so I guess that would be offered also during the ornate gigs at the Scala, the Royal Albert Hall or the Budapest Opera. As far as the music is concerned, the power moments are heavily orchestrated, shoved along by pulsating bass and powerful drums. The softer moments are sprinkled with one of my favorite (but not used enough) instruments, the elegant harpsichord, providing not only historical perspective but also incredible delicacy of sound. The impressive 'Duty of Love' is the first magical moment, as the piece evolves from a soft melody into a way more muscular arrangement as the drums pick up the slack, Laura has a voice that can shift into overdrive and things really start cooking. 'House of Dreams' keeps things rolling along, a female vocal duet, bombastic strings, delicate harpsichord, and a storyline that sharpens the hue on the main schemers. Cleverly contrasting sections give this arrangement immediate punch and one can settle into the history.

Why toil over choir mellotron when you can enlist the human expression to do so. On the male voiced 'The Tide Will Change', singer Clive Nolan spits his venom, a vituperative rant where torture, incarceration, humiliation, and exile is expressed in no uncertain terms, it really does 'cut you through the heart', as the mellotron howls away Even when he softens his tone, Rinaldo is still snarling and haughty. Modern day Richard Wagner influenced neo-prog ' More opulent choir work but in a much softer vein, Elena 's has a gentler voice and truly shines on 'Never Close Your Eyes', a shorter and interesting track, all serenity and calm. Perhaps the most overt sounding track is the luminescent 'Glass Throne', a harp and voice leading the way sounding gently medieval, before it kicks into a maelstrom of sounds as Laura steps on the power pedal with a harrowing performance, guitars, bass, drums, and keys flailing away, undeterred. The angst continues on the truculent 'Treachery', where all voices combine as in typical operatic ensemble Andy Sears' turn to take on the still angry Rinaldo, while Lucrezia (Elena) and Contessima (Laura) add their own two cents into the argument. Eric shoots off a wild guitar rant. Its all very theatrical, very overblown, as a rock opera should be but again, it would have a much larger and deeper impact in a live on-stage setting.

There is drop-dead beautiful main theme on 'Fall from Grace', which returns later slightly altered on the more raucous 'Legacy', a final standout track that has classic stamped all over it, as Laura really lets her lungs belt out the passion. These two tracks are my absolute favorites on this set list. This melody is so grandiose and heartfelt that it is easily worth the price of admission. 'Will I Ever Return?' has a superb Andy Sears vocal, within an adventurous arrangement with loads of Mellotron and a wicked Eric Bouillete electric guitar solo. 'Fortunes Reverse' and 'Return of the Medici' continues the plot within the same structure of contrasting atmospheres, from pastoral to bombastic, with loads of vocals. With the lyrics sheet in hand (aka the libretto) , this is superlative entertainment.

Absolutely enthralling work, my only problem is that I have never been fond of any rock opera on vinyl or CD, never went gaga over Wakeman's magnum opus (not for me, that would be the all-instrumental the 6 Wives of Henry VII debut) Voyage to the Center of the Earth, Zuffanti/Heward-Merlin or even Quadrophenia. I simply have trouble with too many vocals. So prog rock opera fans will drool all over their long-tailed tuxedos with 5 stars worth of thrown confetti but for me, this is a 4, easily 4.5 if I get to witness this in one of the afore mentioned Opera houses.

4 Tuscan tyrants

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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