Album review: RENAISSANCE – A Symphonic Journey (CD/DVD)

Annie Haslam chatted to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio shortly before Renaissance’s UK dates in April 2015.  This hour special includes tracks from the band’s albums.

RENAISSANCE - A Symphonic Journey (CD/DVD)

Symphonic Rock Recordings [Release date: 14.09.18]

Bands to have hurdled a half century’s performing tend to fall into two camps.  Sloggers and evolvers, the former battle on pretty much as they started, albeit with increasingly fluid line-ups, usually driven by a formidable founding member.

Curved Air springs to mind, while this correspondingly British progressive act occupies the latter definition, having broadened its appeal with post-1975 hit single, ‘Northern Lights’, prompting the charting of a new course toward more a mainstream sound that was to alienate fans of the trickier propositions dished up in the band’s early ’70s catalogue.

The evolutionary aspect of the now US-based six-piece resides in its support by The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra on this handsomely-mounted 2CD/1DVD package celebrating a night live at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside PA, USA last year.

The group’s music is long-steeped in the symphonic, and tonight, vocalist Annie Haslam is embarking on the titular journey through its repertoire.

She still fields the stunning five-octave range she brought to the group when she joined in 1971, taping the following year what is perceived as the ‘classic’ line-up’ kick starter album, ‘Prologue’.  Its title track would be a challenge for most but Annie tackles its glass-breaking a capella runs with reassuring aplomb as an opener for tonight’s concert.

While the repertoire timelines the band’s journey to the present day, it derives much from the ’70s: wisely it seems, as the whoops and hollers from a packed house get notably louder for the likes of ‘At The Harbour’, ‘Island’ (Annie’s auditioning song back in the day), ‘Song For All Seasons’, and a formidably moving ‘Mother Russia’.

The quality stamp is not banged down on Haslam’s focal-point performance alone; it emblazons those of her band and orchestra, sound-desk and studio mixing, camerawork and editing. And it likewise tributes the authorship of musicians John Tout and Michael Dunford and lyricist Betty Thatcher, all of whom played major roles in forging this music, and are now deceased.

The only member of the 1971 line-up still with Renaissance, Annie Haslam is momentarily overcome at one point. Reflecting on the orchestra’s evocative cradling of their songs, there’s a hesitation, a tick at the back of the throat, remembering them.

And then she is back on song.  ****

Review by Peter Muir

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 14 February 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week.

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Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
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