The Queen Symphony
London Oratory School Schola
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded at Abbey Road
Studio One, London in August
2002 & Phoenix Sound Studio
One, London in August and September 2002
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: November 2002
CD No: EMI 5 57395 2
While I wouldn’t want to be considered as out of touch with popular culture as the judge who once asked during a trial “Who are the Beatles?”, I should state that while I know that Queen was a ’pop group’ and I’ve heard of the late Freddie Mercury, I would be hard-pressed to name one of their numbers, “Bohemian Rhapsody” aside, let alone hum one.
Yet that shouldn’t matter. After all, if the music, any music, has something to say, then its derivation isn’t important. In any case, Tolga Kashif’s re-fashioning of thirteen of Queen’s hits into a six-movement symphony for chorus and orchestra could hardly claim to be authentic, and takes a stab at trying to be romantically classical (I think). Poor old Julian Kershaw gets a small-letter mention; very un-classical to get someone else to do the scoring. Tolga Kashif makes some sweeping statements in his booklet note. Queen’s music “inherently contains the language of the modern classical genre”. What is that then? Who are the composers in that camp? The first minute or so sounds like Vaughan Williams. This I like! Then the choir explodes in. Not so keen! What we actually have is something that would pass, today, as a pretty good film score. I like Queen-member Brian May’s note and I think his “in my opinion” and a row of exclamation marks suggests that his assertions are made tongue-in-cheek.
Shouldn’t there be more ’attitude’, more ’street cred’ about the music, even if it is able to transcend to another dimension, a symphonic one? Some of the songs suit this ’big’ setting quite well; I rather liked the second movement, “Love of My Life” – “Another One Bites The Dust” (a remarkably heavy ’Allegro scherzando’!) – “Killer Queen”. Forgot, all the sections are given traditional Italian tempo markings. Didn’t like the third movement ’Adagio’, far too mawkish. Did like the fourth though, skittish for “Bicycle Race” – sort of Gershwin meets Ron Goodwin’s ’Miss Marple’ tune (and I’m genuinely not taking the proverbial!) – and soulful for “Save Me”.
The use of the choir seems to me somewhat antiseptic, too churchy, something like that. That struck me in the mock-hymn that opens the next movement. All a bit sugary, and all a bit primitive later on – primitive in terms of ritual and primeval connotations – and segues to the ’Finale’, which follows the slow, sentimental trajectory previously heard. Three songs are reprised.
Did I like The Queen Symphony? Yes and no. Listen again? To the ’yes’ bits, yes. Was I convinced? No. Symphony? No. Queen? Would like to hear the originals. Considering the different studios, producers and mixing desks this recording has been through – not least “Pro-Tools Programming” – the sound quality appears reasonably natural!