On the verge of a legendary platter’s half-century jubilee, the classic’s new reading is delivered to stress how impressive it still is.
In tune with its immense psychological scope, “Tubular Bells” proved to have a lasting effect on the listener, purifying people’s soul in multiple ways, and, despite the dexterity it requires to be performed, the suite’s covers, from electronic to brass ones, began to proliferate almost right away, but its orchestral interpretation was there first, spearheaded by RPO and featuring the piece’s composer on guitar. Mike Oldfield would go on to further his magnum opus and add a few more chapters to this glorious series, whereas the famed London collective with whom he worked the year after the original album had been released decided to mark its fiftieth anniversary via approaching the classic afresh and taking their new reading to the stage. With Simon Dobson waving the baton, Brian Blessed emceeing and voices of a choir joining in the progressive mass, the return to terra majestica couldn’t get more impressive – at least when it comes from the studio – even in the presence of rock ‘n’ roll charge.
Retaining the erstwhile shimmer of 1973’s chef d’oeuvre yet stripping the suite’s movements of their simmering sinister tones, the orchestra seem to escape the old space by pushing dynamic boundaries of “Tubular Bells” by allowing bass to punctuate all atmospheric points before sweeping strings anchor the ambient ethereality and warm reeds elevate the heart-tugging momentum to pass it over to guitars, soaring electric and caressing acoustic, which shatter the entire mini-universe once other instruments support their sudden, albeit sublime, belligerence. And when they swell only to split into a delicate harmonic spectrum that would weave in and out of the symphonic tapestry until tympani make room for funky riffs, a magnificent sway of the whole sonic enterprise is revealed, and the titular tubes ring delicately and triumphantly at the same time, the words-augmented recital at the finale of Part 1 turning overtly theatrical – and later on, histrionically hilarious – but vocals at the start of Part 2 bring serenity to the fore and let the light linger on within RPO’s sophisticated, finely filigreed interplay.
The artists hold every folk-tinctured thread close to sunshine for everybody to relish and set the frivolous “Sailor’s Hornpipe” apart from the main course, as a ballroom dance, and if that wasn’t enough, they delve deeper into Oldfield’s lore, dedicating this package’s second disc to other gems from Mike’s catalogue. There’s idyllic uplift to the orchestra’s delivery of “Ommadawn Part 1” which unfolds a breathtaking vista the writer might have envisioned yet arguably never fully embroidered with the detail displayed here, including tribal chant, although “Excerpt From Hergest Ridge Part 1” are possessed with the same down-to-earth romanticism as his own panoramic view, perhaps getting too similar to his intent. However, they chose the eternally playful “Moonlight Shadow” – retained in a song format but morphed by RPO into a superficial slice of MOR – to sign off on the celebratory evocation of a singular music milestone.
It’s not an obligatory listening, yet something enriching one’s existential experience.