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Wakeman, Rick: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Live at Hampton Court Palace)

Everyone has a secret wish. For the best keyboard player in the universe it was to play his album The Six Wives of Henry VIII live at Hampton Court Palace. On May 1st and 2nd of 2009, that dream finally came true. To the delight of Rick and all that were there to help celebrate the 500th anniversary of the King's coronation, Wakeman was joined by the Orchestra Europa, The English Rock Ensemble and The English Chamber Choir to complete the spectacle that was to unfold.

The album originally released in 1973 has become one of the legendary progressive discs of all time. Here it is presented in a way that is just astounding. With the benefit of the full orchestra and choir, the music that Rick give us so long ago takes on a new life. Not only that, you get three songs not on the original album.

The album starts out with a new composition called "Tudorture /1485". As powerful as the original album was, this just made it stronger. Wakeman has always been one who loved the pomp and majestic style of classical music and he delivers a tour-de-force with this overture to his suite. With all the fanfare that is fitting for the event and the place, Wakeman brings it on like the true master showman that he is.

The second song not on the original is called "Defender of the Faith". This one was left off the original because of space limitations. Now it is put back to its rightful home and that is in the middle of his opus. This is one of the most rocking tunes on the disc and is classic Wakeman. What a shame we had to wait so long to hear it.

The last new song is the closer "Tudorock". You would not expect anything less than this captivating piece as the finale. Regal and rocking with the choir adding another dimension that is pure Wakeman, this is as fine a work as he has done in many years. He also enlist son Adam to help him with this one. It is nice to see the family that rocks together…

If all this isn't enough to have you heading to the store, there is the fact that each song from the '73 release has been expanded for this concert. With "Kathryn Howard" and "Kathryn Parr" (I don't know why the switch of the first letters of the name from "C" to "K") both now clocking in at over 12 minutes, there is certainly a lot more Six Wives to love. I think this might have been the way he would have liked it done way back when. He often lengthens the songs when played live but each time there is something different. For this concert he pulls out all the stops and gives you a keyboard treat second to none.

There is a DVD of the concert available too. I could not get my hands on it but am very curious because there is 2 additional tracks listed and narration between the songs that does not appear on the CD. The CD is the music and only the music. This is the one drawback I can find. I would have liked to have the whole experience on the CD also. I am sure the DVD will be my next purchase.

Wakeman says that this will never be performed in such a manner again. That is a shame in one way but it makes this disc something to treasure too. Rick is one of the icons in progressive music and he only reminds us of that fact with this magnificent album. The sound quality is fantastic for a live release in most parts. The orchestration does get drowned out in a few areas but it is a minor point. Overall this is a lavish production that you will relish thanks to the genius of Wakeman. As I listen to these songs again I am reminded of what it was like when I first heard Rick. There is certain music that can and will be considered timeless. Thinking about the fact that most of this music was first done 35 years ago, I have to say that it has stood the test. It is as powerful and magnificent as the day he released this classic the first time. It is hard not to listen to this album and not be fascinated by the talent of Rick Wakeman.

He has put out over 100 albums in his career and to be honest some real stinkers in the bunch. This is not one of them. For an example of complete keyboard wizardry using the baroque style that has made him a legend, Wakeman proves once and for all that he is still at the top of the heap.

Many will say that he is not relevant anymore as his later works have left something to be desired. Well, this quality of music is always relevant and sounding so clean and fresh after so many years is just a testament to that fact. Run, don't walk and get this one. It is what great music is all about.

Track listing:

1. Tudorture
2. Catherine of Argon
3. Kathryn Howard
4. Jane Seymour
5. Defenders of the Faith
6. Katherine Parr
7. Anne of Cleves
8. Anne Boleyn
9. Tudorock

Added: November 23rd 2009
Reviewer: Scott Ward
Related Link: Rick's Official Site
Hits: 2550
Language: english

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Wakeman, Rick: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Live at Hampton Court Palace)
Posted by Alex Torres, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-11-23 11:03:38
My Score:

When Rick Wakeman first issued his legendary The Six Wives of Henry VIII album in 1973, it was his ambition to stage the music at the home of the notorious ruler, London's Hampton Court Palace. Rebuffed by the authorities at the time, Wakeman was amazed, but very pleased, to be contacted and offered the chance to use the venue on the 500th anniversary of the King's accession to the throne. The music was indeed played, amids great pomp, on two evenings of May 2009. A DVD and CD of the occasion have been produced for posterity – and Wakeman's coffers! – and this review covers the CD of the event.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII, whilst not Wakeman's first solo album (he is, of course, most famous for having been the keyboards player on some equally legendary Yes albums, and also played for The Strawbs), is certainly the album that brought him to solo fame and, despite a solo career averaging more than one album a year since that time, is still ,arguably, his best solo album. Certainly, the only likely contenders for that accolade are the live recording of Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974) and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975). Those three are not my personal favourites of his, but they are the ones that most progressive rock fans will point to. (For the record, I prefer his piano based work, and my favourite – of those that I've heard, is there anyone who has heard them all? – is 1977's Criminal Record).

But what of this live recording? The sound, for an open-air recording, is excellent, no worries there. The playing is, as you would expect, first-class: Wakeman is assisted by his son Adam, also on keyboards, a strong band of musicians, and by a large choir and huge orchestra. The CD's song-list does not, like the CD, include the whole of the show but it does include the extra compositions that Wakeman prepared for the occasion: there is "Defender of the Faith", a piece inspired by King Henry himself, which had been written for the 1973 album but was left off because of space limitations; as well as two entirely new pieces, the opening "Tudorture – 1485"and the closing piece "Tudorock". The latter piece is actually the rockiest, featuring as it does the meatiest guitar.

As for the music itself: it may be a legendary album but my belief is that has more to do with the significance of such an album in 1973 - albeit Emerson, Lake and Palmer had been touting not dissimilar progressive music for about three years – than with the enjoyability of the music. Taking inspiration from European classical and English folk, as well as his own original ideas, Wakeman's compositions often seem to be more about technical prowess than musicality. Within this blitzkrieg approach to composition there are some fine musical moments, for sure, but I don't find it all consistently high from the point of view of musicality. That goes for the original music, of course; the problem is exacerbated here by there being more of it!

One of Wakeman's enduring attributes has been his well deserved reputation as a showman, an extrovert raconteur, someone who brings a real presence to the live stage. As such, he is much better to experience live than on disc – that is borne out by my own experience – and, as a result, the DVD package of this album is going to be a much better buy. Not only do you get the impressive setting of Hampton Court Palace, but you will get a real feel for the occasion that has been well engineered by this master showman. So, if you have a desire to hear this music played, and you have the capability of watching a DVD, then buy that, not the CD, which is its pale shadow.

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