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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays the Music of Rush

Review by Gary Hill

When you combine symphonic music with rock, to my mind it is, by definition progressive rock. This set is quite a potent combination of the two with the orchestra covering the music of Rush. The results are not always great, but they are always quite good, with some moments of greatness. It’s an intriguing set that lends a new side to the sound of familiar songs.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
2112 Overture

Symphonic instrumentation opens this up and there are washes of synthesizer bringing the sound home. Turning the whole musical concept into a classical motif is really quite cool. It has more rocking sounds as it builds out into something closer the original. Mind you, no one is going to mistake this as the original, but wow! There are enough recognizable themes here to grab your attention and the wall of sound created by the orchestra is cool. There’s even a female voice doing the “and the meek shall inherit the Earth” line.

The Spirit of Radio

This rises up with some great musical tapestries creating the classic Rush sound. At times this almost feels like jazz in this configuration. This does include some electric guitar soloing and a choir of voices provides the “words of the profits” line.

Tom Sawyer
I know it goes against conventional wisdom, but I’ve never been a huge fan of this song. Sure, it’s a good one, but suffers from being overplayed. I really like this symphonic take on the piece. This one fits more thoroughly in the classical end of the spectrum.
Subdivisions
The introductory section reminds me a bit of something from The Moody Blues’ symphonic days. Then as it goes into the song proper, I’d have to say that I like this in some ways better than the original version. There’s a real sense of drama and bombast here that works very well. Unfortunately, the shrill, operatic vocals that come in really kind of ruin this for me. When the male operatic vocal is brought in, it’s better than that female one, but still not great. The chorale version of the vocal segment, though works much better.
Closer to the Heart

They keep this one more decisively classical in nature and I really like it a lot. Of course, it helps that I’ve always liked this song a lot, too. There are points here where it almost feels like James Bond theme music to me. It’s exotic, dramatic and powerful. It has a lot of twists and turns and changes.

Red Barchetta
After opening with a dramatic symphonic movement the piano leads the first melody line in and they work out from there. This one gets some of the more rock oriented sounds of the disc and is another that has some smoking hot electric guitar. The arrangement is both symphonic and rock oriented. It works through several changes and has some nice contrasts between mellower and harder edged sounds. Later in the piece we get a choir of voices providing some of the lyrical motifs of the piece. This is one of the highlights of the disc, working quite well. It shifts out later to some almost metallic music as the guitar solos like crazy over the top. Later the guitar solos again over a mellower section and there’s a cool bass solo beyond that point. That section serves as the outro to the piece.
Limelight
Harp opens this and then other instruments join as it builds gradually outward. This thing stays pretty much in the symphonic territory and works well.
Working Man
Suitably, this rocks out more than a lot of the stuff here. It’s another point where the symphonic elements lend an almost jazz sound to some of it. We get some electric guitar in this one, too. There’s a seriously rocking movement later in the piece with some crunch guitar all over the top. It’s rather fusion-like and the bass just drives this thing, much as it should. Then they take it to an almost space rock styled jam on their version of the extended instrumental jam from the original tune. There are more of those fusion stylings as it mellows back out from there. When the horns join back in it really has a marching band kind of feeling to it. This thing just keeps shifting and changing and is a smoking hot tribute to Rush, no question about it.
Fly By Night
After a symphonic introduction, electric guitar takes over bringing the main musical themes to the forefront. From there the symphonic elements rejoin and the cut moves forward. Somehow, this mix has an almost western movie soundtrack feeling to it. On the other hand, I’m also reminded a bit of some of the music from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds. This is a fun way to take the set out.
 
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