Mike Oldfield

The Orchestral Tubular Bells

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It was inevitable, after the mega-success of Tubular Bells in its original form, that someone would orchestrate the piece -- the many and varied instrumental voices of the original virtually begged for this treatment, especially as the original album appeared at the height of the progressive rock boom, when even self-contained rock bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer were starting to turn toward orchestral accompaniment in their quest for richer sounds. In this case, it was composer Mike Oldfield himself who oversaw and co-produced the work with orchestrator and collaborator David Bedford, a longtime friend and colleague. The orchestration lives up to its promise, Bedford bringing to bear the diverse voices of strings, horns, brass, and winds in suitably rich fashion, even toning down many of Oldfield's original flourishes in the version for small electric orchestra (which is what the original was, in essence): An electric guitar part transcribed for reeds, a bass part given the violas, brass covering a guitar solo, or tubas replacing bass in a key section, it's all done smoothly and professionally by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The only problem with the album is that it all sounds a little too conventional as orchestral music and betrays some of Oldfield's original source material and inspirations (or, perhaps, some of Bedford's influences) -- so one hears in sharp relief the influence of Berlioz, Saint-Saƫns, and even Jerome Moross (whose music from The Big Country -- also an inspiration to Yes at an earlier date -- surfaces for a few seconds at one point). The timbres are the most interesting element of this recording, which will, at times, too much resemble film music for the tastes of some listeners (this despite the fact that the original material was most familiar to many listeners in terms of its use from The Exorcist -- it worked there because it sounded so unearthly, whereas here it sounds anything but unearthly; indeed, the end of "Tubular Bells, Pt. 1" is lacking in drama and joy with the absence of a narrator to introduce the array of instruments which, of course, has been altered completely for this recording). And Part 2 of the piece, which was always more problematic, comes off here as engaging from moment to moment but a bit shapeless overall, despite some superb classical-style acoustic and electric guitar from Oldfield near the end. It also would have been nice to have had some annotation by Oldfield or Bedford some decades after the fact, recalling this project.

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