“Hit For Six” - Tony Banks’ s Six Pieces For Orchestra reviewed by Alan Hewitt.

Tony’s first stab at an orchestral project, 2004’s Seven garnered him some well deserved critical acclaim in this most difficult of fields. Rock music and the orchestra have had a somewhat chequered past and many artists have failed to embrace the necessary discipline to make it work.

Not so Mr Banks, Seven was a refined and confident statement of intent from Tony and he has finally followed it up with Six Pieces For Orchestra. Unlike its predecessor, Six has a definite programme to it involving the adventures of a “male” and “female” protagonist and it is the latter of these which we hear first during the opening piece; Siren.

Featuring some superb saxophone work from Martin Robertson, Tony paints a vast aural seascape here, probably in keeping with the character he is portraying. From calm and sunny to angry and windswept, the music by turns runs through several different emotions. Almost like a journey at sea which can often be by turns calm or stormy or perhaps merely evoking the different facets of character which Siren possesses. Either way this a far more adventurous start to an album than its predecessor.

Continuing the aquatic theme, Still Waters is much more restrained and majestic. If you listen very carefully, there are echoes of some of Tony’s previous work here but reconstructed in such a way as to make them vividly new and exciting. The orchestra paints a distinctly austere picture here and this is music of an almost Edwardian elegance which will conjure up a variety of images on the listener’s head, beautiful stuff.

We are introduced to the male character next in Blade, a roller coaster ride of a piece driven along by the violin superbly played by Charlie Siem, the new enfant terrible of the orchestral world. Here again the echoes of Tony’s Genesis past can be heard all so briefly. This one could be defined as an overture if it were not in the wrong place. That aside, once again the music takes us to different places and evokes different moods but with a definite swagger in its step. The hero is seen as romantic lover, brave hero and adventurer all through the brilliantly observed music and playing.

Wild Pilgrimage gets off to a deceptively restrained start, dawn as the journey starts perhaps? Once again, the refrain from one of Tony’s earlier efforts can be heard if you listen closely. A luxurious and lush musical palette sets the scene here as the orchestra create a widening vista of musical imagery for us to wander in.

The Oracle is at once serene and slightly mysterious but with an ever so slight wry sense of humour to it perhaps one might say that this is a thumbnail sketch of Tony himself? Quiet determination and elegant taste mark this one out as a favourite for me personally.

The album is rounded off by City Of Gold which won’t need any explanation from devotees of Tony’s work, will it? The characters reach the end of their quest in superbly enigmatic fashion. A Trick Of The Tail or a flick of the conductor’s baton? You decide. There are no rights or wrongs, this is a musical adventure in which you, the listener can decide upon the final resolution, the music merely provides you with potential points of reference and like the best of music, lets the listener’s imagination do the real work.

Tony has finally come of age as a composer for the orchestra here. This album is a delight from start to finish. Luxurious without being indulgent, the music glistens like burnished gold and should bring Tony’s work to a wider audience which is just what he deserves. I for one would be delighted to see this performed by an orchestra and feel sure that one day, this and its predecessor will find their place in the canon of orchestral works in many an orchestra’s repertoire - superb all round!

Tony Banks - SIX Pieces for Orchestra. Naxos 8.572986.