King Biscuit Flower Hour (KBFH) Records' 11 February 1997 US release of Renaissance - Live at the Royal Albert Hall interrupted a too long absence of the band's releases. I learned of this new album by keeping an eye on news releases at Northern Lights, and placed my order as soon as I could. Memories of waiting for new a Renaissance release were once again rekindled. It seems that I have spent the past ten plus years just hunting for CDs, but only for replacing the vinyl I already owned. Now, to compound things, this new release is just Part One of the show. Part Two should be out in March; so I'm back to waiting again.
The KBFH release offers a live performance the band gave at the Royal Albert Hall in London, 14 October 1977. Intended for radio broadcast, the recording quality is a bit below that which we now expect; yet Part One contains a couple gems as we've never heard before, and the liner notes indicate Part Two will contain the same. As this performance follows the release of Novella, I guess this might be our only chance to hear pieces of that marvelous album performed live. Those of you with an ear to the ground probably know Annie recently gave the first live performance of "The Captive Heart," so I won't expect that track on Part Two.
The show opened with an instrumental arrangement of "Prologue" performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I have long felt "Prologue" offered Annie a few vocal exercises before she unleashed that incredible voice of hers, and this new instrumental arrangement punches a major hole in that opinion. The orchestra's performance however, reveals a depth to the band's classical influences I had previously missed. The orchestra's arrangement offered a new beauty to the whole of Renaissance's music.
"Prologue" is followed by "Can You Understand" and "Carpet of the Sun,", and these tracks are performed in much the same fashion as is heard on the Live At Carnegie Hall album. One slight difference I noted was Annie's 'do-do-do-dah' harmonizing through parts of "Can You Understand." It's these unique differences from the studio and other performances that make a live performance so special. Each performance contains its own flavor, and I wish each was available to us if for no reason other than historic preservation.
"Can You Hear Me" fills track four and adds a live Novella tune to my collection. As I mentioned above, I'm expecting a couple other songs from Novella to appear in Part Two of this concert. While the ordering of notes is quite similar to the studio version, the live performance seems to magnify the emotion of this beautiful song.
"Song of Scheherazade" completes Part One of the performance, and unfortunately reveals much of the recording equipment weakness. While this track again closely resembles that heard on the Live At Carnegie Hall album version, timing and "communication" with the orchestra are a bit improved. There were a couple missed piano notes, but that was quickly forgotten as this song's complexity again amazed and overwhelmed me. Track lengths of other songs in this performance closely parallel track lengths from other releases, although "Song of Scheherazade" is shortened about four minutes from the Live At Carnegie Hall version. I didn't notice the difference, but apparantly the clock did.
Renaissance's performance at the Royal Albert Hall was splendid as ever, although I am a bit let down by the recording of that performance. My first impression was to attribute this to recording technology of the period; but Live At Carnegie Hall was recorded prior and does not suffer the problem. Some may argue that this new release on King Biscuit Flower Hour Records captures more of the live environment which was lost in the engineering of the Live At Carnegie Hall album. In time I may agree with that position. Overall, I am truly impressed with the performance, and thrilled to now have live Novella along with an instrumental "Prologue" among my collection. I anxiously await Part Two.