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The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Plays Prog Rock Classics

Review by Gary Hill

I like these Royal Philharmonica Orchestra sets. I love the way the symphonic arrangements change the songs we know so well. Sometimes it’s an improvement in some ways, or at least enhancement. Other times, it’s just a change. It’s always interesting, though. There are some noteworthy guest performers on this particular ride. I’d definitely recommend this. It makes for a great listening experience beginning to end.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 3 at

Track by Track Review
ELP Suite: Tarkus / From the Beginning / Tarkus (Reprise)

I love the way the classical elements and the rock ones combine here. The rendition of “From the Beginning” almost feels jazz oriented at times. The reprise of “Tarkus” also gets some jazz in the mix. The whole piece does a great job of balancing beauty and bombast.

Comfortably Numb feat. Ian Bairnson
Starting with a mellow movement, this song definitely has a lot of pure classical music built into it. Still, the more rocking sections lend some definite departure from that. I love the way the instrumental handle the vocals. This is very different from the original version, but also very beautiful. In many ways, I like it better than the Pink Floyd version.
Thick as a Brick feat. Richard Harvey
The Celtic elements really manage to shine in this arrangement. There is a lot of classical music here. Yet, the song’s melodies and majesty still show through. This is quite a pretty rendition, really. The pure progressive rock jam later really scorches, too. This keeps changing, evolving and growing. There is a bombastic section that gives way to a delicate mellow movement at the end.
21st Century Schizoid Man feat. Gavin Harrison and Guthrie Govan
This is such an amazing rendition. It moves between classical music, hard rocking stuff and even some jazz sections. The melodies of the song translate really well here. This is another amazing rendition.
Focus II feat. Thijs Van Leer
The first sections of this are purely classical. It eventually grows out toward more rock or jazz oriented territory. In fact, there are sections that fall into full jazz. There are other moments that bring back into the classical end of the spectrum.
Nights in White Satin feat. Mark Feltham
I love the powerhouse symphonic movement at the beginning. As it drops to the mellower territory it has a lot of majesty and beauty. They take the song in some unusual directions. Given that the original had symphonic instrumentation included, that says a lot. Feltham's harmonica is an intriguing choice.
Think of Me with Kindness feat. Patrick Moraz
This is an incredibly beautiful song. It has a lot of the classical elements driving it. Some of this makes me think of soundtrack music to an old Western. It also gets a little jazzy at times.
Roundabout feat. Jimmy Greenspoon
Now, on this one they turn in quite a rocking rendition. There is even some funk built into this cut. There have been quite a few symphonic renditions of this song over the years. I like this one a lot. It’s one of the best ones, actually. It’s quite high energy. The mellow sections, though, lend just the right contrast.
Watcher of the Skies
I absolutely love this rendition. I would never have imagined that this symphonic retelling of the classic piece would work as well as it does. They manage to retain the magic and bring new dimensions to it at the same time.
Red Barchetta feat. Adrian Smith
This song actually has some chorale vocals at one point. It does a great job of bringing a symphonic treatment to this Rush classic. It’s high energy and rather jazzy at times. It has some great guitar sounds, too. I love some of the bass work, especially in the mellower movement at the end.
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