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While essentially a reissue, 'Symphony of Light' is a demonstration of mature prog rock with a standout vocalist.

Music Review: Renaissance – ‘Symphony of Light’

When I interviewed Annie Haslam for the Sept. 25, 2012 edition of online radio’s Dave White Presents, the singer told me she had been very reluctant to reform Renaissance in 2011. For one thing, she was happy with her solo career. For another, the history of Renaissance’s ever-changing line-ups and the old need to work with orchestras made touring a daunting challenge. But guitarist, principal songwriter, and original member Michael Dunford convinced her the band should do something for their 40th anniversary. After Haslam agreed, the new ensemble released Renaissance Tour 2011 – Turn of the Cards and Scheherazade & Other Stories Live In Concert. Tragically, two months after my interview with Haslam, Dunford died on November 20, 2012.

renaissanceBefore his passing, Dunford and Haslam crafted the songs that appeared on Renaissance’s next studio album, their first in over a decade, 2013’s Grandine ll Vinto, an album dedicated to Dunford. As that album didn’t get much traction, this year Renaissance re-issued exactly the same album, this time naming it Symphony of Light and adding three bonus tracks, hoping Red River Entertainment could do a better job with distribution . Two of these new songs, “Tonight” and “Immortal Beloved” appeared on the EP titled The Mystic and the Muse, and the closer, “Renaissance Man,” is Haslam’s homage to her late partner. It’s fine to add these numbers to the Renaissance catalogue, but the name change obviously has led to confusion among longtime fans.

Whether you listen to Grandine ll Vinto or Symphony of Light, you’re hearing the finest Renaissance release since their glory days of the ’70s. For one matter, Haslam’s five-octave vocal range has lost nothing over the years. Her voice is even more precise and controlled than Turn of the Cards or Prologue days, and she can still sustain those crystalline high notes.

For another, there are only two lengthy epics on the album. The album’s longest track is the 12-minute “Symphony of Light” which introduced the colorful and gentle themes of the set. As most of the other offerings are about five minutes or so, we get a rich variety of tones and melodies that keep the program fresh as we move through the musical and lyrical imagery, much of it involving water and light.

For example, there’s the folky “Waterfall” which begins and ends with nature sounds, the stand-out “Porcelain” built on images of an African village in the rain, and the affirmative “Cry To The World” where Haslam tells us to “Fly to the light.” (Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull adds his flute to the latter track.)

Speaking of guest stars, former Renaissance member John Wetton shares vocal duties on the theatrical “Blood Silver Like Moonlight.” Equally dramatic, echoes of “Mother Russia” open the 7 1/2 minute “Mystic and the Muse,” the original closer for Grandine ll Vinto. For both versions of the album, the principal players are Haslam, Dunford, and David J. Keyes (bass since 2001), Rave Tesar (keyboards since 2001), Frank Pagano (drums since 2009), and Jason Hart (keyboards since 2010). The guitarist for the three new tracks and for live gigs is Dunford’s replacement, Ryche Chlanda.

If you are among those who already own Grandine ll Vinto, the only reason to purchase Symphony of Light is to get the new songs, and you would have every right to feel ripped off. Three tracks don’t justify the full cost of another CD. However, if you are among those who missed that release and like prog rock that’s more classical than rock, Symphony of Light is an extremely listenable collection. If you liked the Renaissance of old, this is a very recognizable assembly showing the maturity of time and musicianship. If you haven’t heard Renaissance before, it’s a fine introduction to a group that still has considerable chops as writers and performers alike.

You can hear Wes Britton’s 2012 audio interview with Annie Haslam, in which she discusses the history of Renaissance and the background to the 2011 reformation of the band here.

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