[AMS Records, 2016]
Intro: Dimitris Kaltsas
28 / 06 / 2016
The revival of symphonic progressive rock in Italy has led to a new, modern, multitudinous scene reminiscent of the 70s and Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI), although acoustically the differences are quite a few and it would be rather inappropriate to characterize the current bands with the same term.
One of the most important representatives of contemporary Italian symphonic prog sound is undoubtedly the versatile musician Fabio Zuffanti, who was a founding member of Finisterre in 1993, when the return of the traditional progressive sound began in Italy. Zuffanti is also a member of La Maschera di Cera and has formed numerous projects, while leading a remarkable solo career (especially La Quarta Vittima is a really good album). However, the most attractive project of all is Höstsonaten who were named after the homonymous film by Ingmar Bergman.
The seven albums by Höstsonaten are so far characterized by an impressive stability of respectable level, with Springsong (2001), a quite mild album, slightly standing out from the rest. The scope of surprise for this year’s Symphony N.1: Cupid & Psyche is rather limited; or maybe not?
A first reading of the credits of Symphony N.1: Cupid & Psyche leads immediately to the conclusion that this is the most ambitious project by Höstsonaten, at least in terms of orchestration. The rock band here includes besides Zuffanti, Luca Scherani (keyboards, also member of La Coscienza di Zeno since 2012), Paolo Tixi (drums), Laura Marsano (guitars) and Daniele Sollo (bass), but the ambitious part is the 11-member classical orchestra that “dresses” Symphony N.1 with sounds that sound traditional for an Italian progressive band.
Cupid & Psyche should be played necessarily all the way through as a whole, as it is a unified work that keeps the listener’s interest undiminished for 43 minutes. By having an alternate storyline and adventurous transitions, the common aesthetics denominator here is a charming atmosphere of mystery. The orchestral narrative ‘fluency’ emerges strongly from the absence of expressive limitations and stereotypes. Of course, besides the pluralistic orchestration that at the very least impresses any progressive rock fan, the dominant element that surprises everyone till the end, is Zuffanti’s inexhaustible inspiration. He set up a whole album with mastery, hiding brilliantly surprises that are discovered in every subsequent hearing in all parts of the project. The greatest proof of this is that it is impossible to single out one or two (or five or seven) top tracks from the album. And even if all the tracks can stand independently, their place in the set is equally important and equal. In the same way, I find equally delightful Marsano’s guitar solos, Scherani’s explosions on the keyboards (with the characteristic R. Wakeman’s colour), the wonderful parts with Tarantino and Bartolini in oboe and bassoon respectively, the melodic passages with Roan’s flute, the agony that the Formus String Quartet weaves, Zofrea’s groovy saxophone and so much more …
By listening again and again to the eighth album by Höstsonaten, it becomes clear that the dominant musical element is Zuffanti’s personal style, springing from his love for symphonic prog and of course the tradition of his country in this genre. The only dark spot is the weak production which rather failed to fully support the ambitious project. There are points at which the sound is very thin and others where the dynamic playing is being wronged acoustically. But the technical prowess of all participants without exception is such that even such an important factor becomes almost secondary. On the whole, Cupid & Psyche is Höstsonaten’s top album. Until the next one of course.
8 / 10
Höstsonaten continue their twenty-year course with the same quality and consistency, even making progress at each album. In this year’s Symphony N.1: Cupid & Psyche the band of the bassist and leader Fabio Zuffanti added even more classical instruments (flute, oboe, violin, viola, cello, trombone, saxophone, bassoon, horn) in their typical prog rock line-up, making the overall effect completely classic-like, flirting more than ever before with the legacy of RPI of the 70s. High level of technique, beautiful melodies, impeccable rhythms and emotional changes characterize one of the best instrumental albums of this decade. The only negative aspect is found in the relatively poor production. A very good symphonic prog album, made to be heard as a whole, from beginning to end.
8 / 10