Reviewed by Tony Cummings
In 1985 Rick Wakeman, not then a regular churchgoer, was asked by the pastor of a United Reformed Church in the Isle of White whether he would at some organ recitals to raise some money for the purchase of a new organ, he agreed but instead of playing the usual fare found himself writing them performing four works based on the New Testament Gospels with the operatic tenor Ramon Remedios. After a successful performance Ramon urged Rick to compose more works and after roping in an old golfing partner actor Robert Powell to do the narration and the Eton College Chapel Choir he began recording the work, on a minuscule budget, at an 8-track in Walton On Thames. It was released with the poor distribution by Stylus Records and sales weren't good. But unexpectedly interest was then shown by TV. After a performance of the oratorio at the Royal Albert Hall (attended by the most diverse audience of nuns, Hell's Angels, dinner-suited classical music buffs and long haired Yes fans!) it was agreed to film for television the full oratorio at Jerusalem. The resulting one and a half hour programme was shown on all TV networks to eight and a half million people. However, Stylus went bust shortly after the broadcast and The Gospels has long been deleted. However, performances of the oratorio continued. In 1994 Rick set about the mammoth task of doing a complete rewrite (a task which took over 600 hours!). Some of the pieces were linked together then put into a more chronological order. Five times as much narrative, three times as much choir and twice as much tenor voice were also added. A new piece "The Cross" and words were written for a piece titled "Tempt me" which was then put to the same music as "Power". Finally in May and June 1995 the whole enormous project was recorded in the Isle of Man with Ramon Remedios (tenor), Garfield Morgan (narrator) and the New Gospels Choir (recorded at Stathbrock Parish Church) conducted by Steve Edwards. Now released on Rick's own record label, Hope Records, the double CD represents a monumental, and often thrilling, listening experience. In every way it exceeds the pioneering but acoustically-limited Stylus album. Here the whole sweep and majesty of the story line is reflected in a series of works which manage to capture much of the grandeur and poignancy of the tale. Ramon Remedios is in magnificent voice while Garfield Morgan reads the Scripture with little of the self conscious theatricality which marred Powell's rendition. Particularly moving is the new work "The Cross" where the poignancy of Remedios' solo "Left to die, crying/So you think it's over Lord" is answered by the poignant surge of the choir "See our Lord". Even if you're too young to remember Yes, or The Gospel's original performance, do try and investigate this moving and ambitious work. You won't be disappointed.
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