ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN
In May this year, Dutch vocal supremo Anneke van Giersbergen joined forces with an orchestra, namely Residentie Orkest The Hague, for two shows in her home country. Songs from her various musical ventures of the years, from her solo work, collaborations and bands, as well as a small number of covers, were reworked into symphonic versions, and all adorned with her emotionally sublime voice. The aptly named 'Symphonized' contains the audio recordings from the shows (presumably, handpicked from the best performances from both The Hague and Tilburg shows... press sheet blurb doesn't specify from which), so those who couldn't experience these special occasions first-hand are now able to revel in all its inherent sublimity in your own personal time and space.
Some of this material is sacred stuff, so for those, including myself, who've had a longstanding emotional affinity and adoration of the originals (particularly The Gathering numbers that feature here), it'd take something truly special to make this orchestral venture a worthy one. Fortunately, that's precisely what's been achieved. Listening to the sublimely conceived versions of some of these songs is like receiving big, warm hugs from old friends.
Have these orchestral arrangements breathed new life into the compositions? Not at all. That would imply the original versions are dying, dead, dated or simply stagnant. This is not the case with any of the songs. The Gathering's 'Travel', for example, is a timeless classic, that remains in my top 20 favourite songs of all time. Rather than breathe new life into these still amazing tracks, it's more a case that some widely regarded classics have been reimagined through their rearrangements; to the point where the whole mood of certain tracks feels different from their original counterparts. 'Travel' is a prime example here, although I do have a few minor niggles with this one...
Basically, the 'How to Measure a Planet?' classic has been reworked with just a little too much orchestral faff on the intro, which shifts the mood of the original from mysterious to sinister. Also, the orchestra doesn't come in strong enough for the verse instrumentation, considering the amount of build-up through the creaky intro shenanigans. I feel it would've worked better going straight into the song, as the orchestral arrangement itself, of the core passages, is fantastic, albeit the 'drama' of the lengthy outro passage that provides such an emotionally powerful climax to the original is somewhat abated on 'Symphonized', with both orchestra and Anneke's voice not soaring to their full potential. The definitive reworked version of this song, for me, is still the one that features on The Gathering's 2004 live album, 'Sleepy Buildings - A Semi Acoustic Evening'.
A couple of VUUR tracks, Anneke's current band, of course, work absolutely wonderfully in these new forms; a testament to the great songwriting in the first place, but also to the skill of whoever rearranged them. And Anneke's wide range and versatility as a vocalist. 'Freedom - Rio' sounds particularly spectacular, but 'Your Glorious Light Will Shine - Helsinki' also works magnificently.
Dipping into her post-The Gathering solo career, 2013 'Drive' track, 'You Will Never Change', and 'Feel Alive' from 'Everything is Changing', have been injected with upbeat, symphonic vibrancy, that reflect the mood of the originals very well indeed. A cover of Lorrainville's 'Two Souls' also features... even though press sheet info would have you erroneously believe that this was originally a song by The Gathering, and 'Amity' was by Lorrainville. Really?! Come on, get your facts right, press sheet peeps! The latter works better than 'Travel', as does the other The Gathering track that appears towards the end, 'Forgotten'. And 'Shores of India', a track from 'The Diary', Anneke's 2015 collaboration with Arjen Lucassen, under The Gentle Storm moniker, sounds fantastic, and expectedly bearing more resemblance to its 'gentle' rather than 'storm' incarnation on the original album.
I guess you can't sing with an orchestra without delving into aria territory. And here, it's in the form of 'When I Am Laid in Earth' from Henry Purcell's opera, 'Dido and Aeneas'. Over the years, Anneke's delivered some of the most sublime vocals ever to grace my ears and very being... but this track is off the sublimity scale. Where did she pull this one from? Blissfully beautiful only goes part way towards describing how captivatingly ethereal her voice is on this piece. Breathtaking stuff.
At just one hour long, and sparse press sheet details provided with this promo (some of which are blatantly incorrect), I'm uncertain whether or not the tracks that constitute 'Symphonized' are the entire set from the orchestral show/s. I would guess not. A mere 60 minutes for such a momentous occasion? Well, a little online digging reveals that not every track performed has been included, although there only seem to be a couple of pieces that are missing, which actually seem to be instrumental only tunes, including Gabriel Fauré's perennially delightful 'Pavane in F-sharp minor, Op. 50.' (put to great use in the 1980 portmanteau horror flick, 'The Monster Club'... although I'm sure others can think of more elegant appropriations of the piece!).
On the whole, 'Symphonized' has all the profound emotional power and sublime artistry I've come to expect from Anneke and all her multifarious musical ventures. Let's hope this also receives some sort of BD or DVD release further down the line.
Review by Mark Holmes
16th Nov 2018
1) Feel Alive
3) Your Glorious Light Will Shine - Helsinki
4) Two Souls
5) When I Am Laid in Earth
7) Zo Lief
8) You Will Never Change
9) Freedom - Rio
11) Shores of India
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Listening to the sublimely conceived versions of some of these songs is like receiving big, warm hugs from old friends."