To be a deft critic of another composerís efforts, for the most part, is a thoroughly difficult task. Indeed, itís not easy to maintain a subjective viewpoint whilst attempting to create a fair balance between personal comment and due respect for a writerís efforts. Thus it is, from the outset, that I find myself in a quandary whilst appraising "Walking the Wild Rhonda", unsure as to how best represent the work of two fine composers whose newly-released album is anything but a successful marriage of musicality and recent technology.
You see, "Walking the Wild Rhonda" features four well-constructed works, representing the output of two established composers, realised for orchestra. Yes, I did indeed write the word "realised", for the cover of the CD inlay booklet proclaims that the album features recordings by the "Heneghan & Lawson Virtual Orchestra", which points to the composers having sequenced their material using samples. (To the uninitiated, the composers are using a faux orchestra that resides in a computer-controlled environment rather than in a concert hall). Having established this startling fact before the disc is even out of its jewel case could lead one to believe that the album is seriously attempting to break new ground. Is it possible that Chandos have pulled a minor miracle out of their conjurorís hat or is this album more accurately personified as an injured bunny?
Unfortunately, whilst Heneghan and Lawson deliver, their orchestral sample libraries do not. As a professional musician, with a penchant for disposing of my income on new technologies, I lasted the course of listening to the gruelling sixty-eight minutes of tight, albeit counterfeit performances, on a pair of hefty studio monitors. To the casual listener, though, thirty-seconds of excellent music blaring out of a trusty home hi-fi, but marred by inhuman performances may well be enough to incite violence as he or she comes to terms with traditional orchestral writing that is clearly devoid of a human performance element. But this is meant to be accessible music which is not marketed at a minority listening audience who prefer electro-acoustic writing. Am I missing something here?
The composers, through no fault of their own (and it should be pointed out that they have done a spectacular job at realising their works, purely on a technical level), are let down by an album that proports to push a "New Direction", but instead feels like an electronic demo that one may well find a film composer plugging before their score is recorded. This album, then, is not something that most people (including the die-hard techies) are going to pay full-price for, especially if it fails to push any boundaries. Of course, had the performances been realised using the newly-released Vienna Symphonic Library of orchestral samples, rather than with the ageing Vitous and Siedlaczek sets, then Iím sure that I would revise that statement (as the Vienna Symphonic Library, in particular, genuinely blurs the distinction between a computer-realised performance and that of real playersÖ).
Ultimately, and this is directed to the majority reading this review, I cannot recommend this album to anyone unprepared to discern orchestral colours from unnatural sonorities which blend with each other in a way that one would expect a natural performance not to. Poor disc mastering factors in here too, no doubt a result of having to normalise the recordings at a level where further compression does not produce audible distortion. One canít help feeling that a better consequence of my comments might be that Chandos stump up the money to issue an album of music by Heneghan and Lawson recorded using real performers.
Thereís a great album in there somewhere, itís just a shame that most people will not be able to hear it, literally.