Annie is a revelation throughout … the standard that she continues to reach four decades on from the first release of these albums is quite astonishing.
In 2011 Renaissance undertook a US tour which consisted of them performing their classic albums Turn Of The Cards and Scheherazade & Other Stories in their entirety. Here in the UK we weren’t fortunate enough to get chance to see this show, but we now have the opportunity to see what we missed with this DVD / 2CD collection.The set has previously been issued a few years ago in DVD-sized packaging, but Esoteric have reissued it here in a nice fold-out CD-template digipak format, which somehow seems more fitting for something which has two audio discs and one DVD – or at least to those of us with ‘Music Collection OCD’ it does (or is that just me?)
Let me say straight off that the music here is absolutely magnificent – Annie Haslam and Michael Dunford (the latter since sadly deceased) may have be the only ’70s veterans in the then-current line-up, but the rest of the band successfully exorcise the ghosts of Tout, Camp and Sullivan, such is their excellence throughout. Annie is a revelation throughout; while there may be times when she doesn’t quite hit the crystal-clear heights of her peak years, the standard that she continues to reach four decades on from the first release of these albums is quite astonishing.
One of the joys here is that, along with such established classics as Ocean Gypsy and Mother Russia for example, we get to hear such rarely-performed gems as Black Flame, and the marvellous Things I Don’t Understand. Things wrap up after the Scheherazade album with an encore of then-recent song The Mystic And The Muse, for which the highest praise must be that it seamlessly fits in with the celebrated material preceding it. The track went on to make its studio debut on the 2013 album Grandine Il Vento, but it is arguable whether that rendition can beat this one.
The DVD complements the CDs to good effect since, while the songs are identical, there is much between-song chatter on the DVD which has been cut out of the CDs; while this may seem to be an odd move, it gives the impression of listening to the albums themselves in the audio medium, albeit in a new form, and works well. Conversely, while there may not be a lot of visual excitement in the form of lights etc, the banter and interaction between band and audience make the DVD highly enjoyable as a more ‘live’ experience. Beautifully presented in the aforementioned fold-out package complete with booklet and some Haslam artwork, this is completely essential for those who have kept the Renaissance flame alive all these years – and well worth a look for fans of the likes of Mostly Autumn and Magenta who want to see how the female-fronted symphonic prog scene really all began.