I’ve been reviewing albums for over a decade or more now and I still really enjoy doing, hearing some amazing new music in the process. Progressive rock has rather a lot in common with classical music forms, lengthy pieces and the use of recurring motifs, themes and melodies being just a few to start with. Prog has courted classical music with differing degrees of success over the years from Deep Purple’s ‘Concerto for Group and Orchestra’ in 1969 to ELP’s version of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ in 1971 and Rick Wakeman’s quasi-classical epics, like ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and beyond through to ELO and so many more.
In all that time reviewing and commenting on the music before, I have never felt as puzzled and lost by what I was hearing as I am here with this album. I feel remarkably inept, unable and lacking any confidence with this album. I know many other reviewers have a far better understanding and appreciation of the classical than I do but, stil,l I’ll do what I can to unravel this rather interesting concept album from Magenta’s Robert Reed and crew.
‘The White Witch’ consists of three pieces, two of which have been revived from earlier Magenta albums, along with a newly commissioned piece of music. All three are linked by a common theme and also with a narrative from Les Penning, whose dulcet, measured tones open each piece of music.
The first piece is called Sacrifice and is about the time of the civil war and the plague that came four years into the war, devastating communities in the land. The music opens with a soft woodwind and strings before a bold brass fanfare leads to a classical guitar softly playing along with the lush vocals of Christina Booth. There is much beauty in her vocals, with touch of Kate Bush in places and the guitar from Chris Fry is excellent. Be aware the woodwinds that weave in and out of the music alongside sweeping violins and violas, good use of penny whistle and strong percussion embellishments. This is musically fascinating to listen to, you can hear how artfully composed this piece really is, with a really clear production that allows everything to breathe and leaves lots of space in the music. This sensitively handled with great skill and strength and really impressed me. The acoustic guitar really shines in this track playing with urgency and yet with delicacy, supporting and underpinning everything to create a masterful soundscape.
The album has it origins in two earlier recordings, namely their debut ‘Revolutions’ from 2001 and also ‘Seven’ from 2004 from which parts have been reimagined for this release. The theme of the album is benign witchcraft as practised by Sara, the main character of the album, and how she uses it for good rather than evil or harm. This in itself is an interesting concept and one that is developed especially well throughout the album with the third part, Survival, being an entirely new composition that concludes it all together well.
Part 2, Retribution, concerns itself with the defeat of the plague and the return of prejudice that is shown toward Sara and those who practise a different way of living. Emotions are stirred and the arrival of the witch finder general makes Sara fear for her life as the rise of intolerance emerges. It is this climate that begins the second part of the trilogy. Again, the music is lively with a strong folk type sound and a strident brass part that leads to Christina’s excellent vocals. This style of singing really suits her voice well and she excels here in this setting with lots of space for her voice to be clearly heard. The confess section of the song is actually rather delightful and almost cheerful to hear despite it somewhat dark subject matter. The track is well developed with more dexterous guitar lines from Chris that really evolve well. Sara pleads for light to guide her way and to allow her to reach new ways and new paths to follow that will help everyone get to a better place. The track ends with her treatise to the moon Luna to help her find her own way forward, the orchestrations in this section are especially sublime and sympathetic to the story.
Survival is the third part of the trilogy and talks of how Sara is leading the way to survival by doing new things in new ways and that how reaching out helps everyone. This is another excellent passage and the whole album is really quite gentle with no Bass or drums. Yet it is still a wonderful listen and repeated plays will reveal the hidden textures and treasures the album contains. It is all very much a soundtrack for an as yet unmade film or production. One can only wait and see what direction and indeed opportunities this album will afford the band. The album closes with a dignified flourish as we see Sara’s magic has worked, bringing peace and harmony back to her community, all’s well that ends well. This is a triumph for Mother Earth and the the album ends on a gentle guitar outro.
This album is not a simple listen and requires commitment to work with the music and to allow its delicate beauty to shine through. If you do this, you will find the reward of some great music, committed performances and a gentle tale told with style and commitment. Don’t be expecting rock rhythms and instrumentation, however but it is a richly orchestrated and well produced folk/classical hybrid with strong instrumentation and melodic themes and the glorious voice of Christina Booth aided by Chris Fry and Robert Reed. I may not return to this album often but I’m certainly glad to have fallen under its spell and charm, give it a listen for yourself and see what you think.
Released 31st October, 2022.
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