Royal Philharmonic Gives Rush Cinematic Sweep
There are already half a dozen classical music tributes to Rush, so you might ask why we need one more, this one released by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in November. The quick answer is that this one uses a full philharmonic orchestra, with 18 violins, six violas, four cellos, two double basses, a broad complement of wind instruments, and a large choral ensemble. So you’re getting the complete orchestra treatment, as opposed to just the chamber ensemble of the earlier tributes. And it’s impressive. There’s nothing like sitting in a concert hall when all the musicians are working their instruments to the max and feeling the music rush through your bones. The orchestra tried to replicate that experience here.
But the main reason we need this classical treatment is to hear, finally, what Rush sounds like when it’s been fully arranged. At long last, we can hear why Rush’s music works the way it does, because as each part is reinterpreted we can hear the dynamics of the music in a new way.
Conductor Richard Harvey has completely re-imagined songs we’ve heard hundreds of times (in my case, maybe a thousand times) like “The Spirit of Radio” and “Subdivisions.”
“The Spirit of Radio” was the kicker for me. Never one of my favorite Rush tunes, the song came alive with its fresh and lively arrangement. The piece opens with a medley of wind instruments that gives the song a cinematic quality that doesn’t come out in the original piece.
“Subdivisions” is another surprise with its unexpected and tasteful use of the choral ensemble. It’s not how I would have imagined the piece treated, but it works.
“Tom Sawyer” is rendered to sound like a movie soundtrack, with lots of orchestral flourishes and personality-laden horn work. We get a lot of suspense, most of it provided by an insistent track of violin work that enters at key points.
With “Closer to the Heart” you get a lot of harp, flute, and french horn at the beginning, as you might expect, but then you hear grand piano and trumpet in unexpected ways, which gets back to the point about how imaginatively the pieces are arranged. It’s like Harvey decided to let loose and see just how to best bring out the personality of each section. As a result, each piece gets a full re-imagining and takes on a sweeping breadth.
To change the dynamic even more, Harvey brings in two heavy-metal pros, Steve Rothery of Marillion and Adrain Smith of Iron Maiden, to do the guitar work on “Working Man” and “Red Barchetta,” respectively. It’s a great touch to hear the acid guitar cutting through the orchestration. At moments it sounds like Judas Priest meets Chicago.
“Limelight” is presented as thoughtful and meditative.
For me, I like best the imagintaive and tasteful way the choral work is brought into some of the pieces and I would have even liked to hear more of it.
Conceptual pieces needed
The only drawback is song selection. Like the dozen or so other tribute albums, both classical and rock, the song choice is narrow, limited to the band’s radio hits. I would have liked to see a more creative song choice, maybe including a more conceptual piece like “Natural Science” or selections from the early epic narrative pieces like “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain of Lamneth”—just something to show a little more daring.
I don’t know enough about audio quality to say much about production and mixing but my sense is producers james Graydon and Richard Cottle went for dynamics rather than volume and that’s good. You can really hear the dynamics of the individual instruments, so the music has a rich, highly articulated quality to it. The downside is you really have to crank the volume to surface it, at least on my system.
All in all a wonderful tribute album that I’ll be listening to again and again.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays the Music of Rush
Richard Harvey, conductor
Featuring Steve Rothery of Marillion on “Working Man” and
Adrain Smith of Iron Maiden on “Red Barchetta”
Purple Pyramid Records