Esoteric Antenna 2018
Reaping and sowing the seasons of a day – not in a carpe diem way – legendary ensemble relive their halcyon era to capture new glory.
“Isn’t this the way it should be?” asks Annie Haslam who’s almost moved to tears by the audience’s response to her group’s return to the symphonic setting RENAISSANCE were last seen in four decades ago. The scale of it may be not as massive as at the time when they graced the Royal Albert Hall’s stage, but what happened in Glenside, Pennsylvania in October of 2017 came close enough to the magic of yore to be preserved for posterity in an audio and video package. Looser than the previous live recording, this album is captivating in many aspects, finding the sextet invigorated by the presence of an orchestra to reveal unheard layers in many an old piece.
It’s obvious from the first piano runs: while adhering to their own classical-influenced past, the ensemble boldly changed quite a lot in terms of arrangements – something that’s not expected from bands of such vintage – and this has nothing to do with guests musicians. “Prologue” sees the collective handle all parts of strings and wind instruments on keyboards, so the ten additional players don’t seem to expand the pastoral scope of “Carpet Of The Sun”; yet they elevate the acoustic luminescence of “At The Harbour” which the group performed in front of public only once in their heyday, which is why the number’s fragile fragrance was retained fresh for the singer to render sadness celestial. In a dress with a print of her own design and occasionally shaking maracas painted by her own hand, with the thematic projections of her art on backdrop, Annie sheds the years to locate a younger self even in the latter-day tracks – drinking water from a chalice is a nice touch, too – and to shine throughout, introducing freshly minted vocal passages to familiar compositions.
Strangely, the veterans rather reluctantly hand “Symphony Of Light” over to the orchestra to embellish – and still, it’s there that the chemical wedding of powerful acoustic waves and majestic electronica is taking place. Likewise, new intro must somewhat mitigate the impact of “Mother Russia” where Joe Deninzon’s violin wails, but when his colleagues join in, the tragic tale gains its erstwhile emotional opulence, as does the spirited simplicity of “Island” – the long-abandoned and now restored ballad from the band’s debut album – featuring a chamber section citing Beethoven to follow up on the most sincere layout of “Kalynda” which is given prominent cinematic flair and flavor. The faux improv in “Ashes Are Burning” doesn’t feel as impressive as an array of solos, including Leo Traversa’s bass exercise and Mark Lambert’s guitar blast, yet there’s jazzy poise infusing, thanks to Rave Tesar, the carousel swirl of “Trip To The Fair” and making Haslam flutter and sound very vulnerable when her voice is left alone at the end.
Annie soars in the finale of “Grandine il Vento” whose soft core is opened with orchestral dynamics that would be passed to the ever-spiritual rise of “A Song For All Seasons” producing a standing ovation, and that’s where she’ll get the answer to her question. Yes, this is the way it should be.
half a star is docked because pauses between pieces on a CD version of the concert turn the experience into a slightly disjointed affair, although the “Behind The Scenes” featurette on the DVD makes up for that