Chouans [2 disc set]
(2019 - Babaika Productions - France)
This two disc release is extremely vibrant and massive, full of all the lush ingredients you desire in a rock opera, done by sky high skill level French folk musicians and composed by Alan Simon. The arrangements alone are stunning and with a one-up on much of yesterday's and today's works. For the uninformed, this project goes leaps and bounds further than The Who's 'Tommy', or 'Jesus Christ Superstar', and would rank among the more brilliant monuments of releases such as William Sheller's 'Lux Aterena' (1972). Add to the fact that this is a beautiful, immaculate Celtic rock extravaganza, that may be Simon's very best yet. His elaborate undertakings of 'Excalibur' (multiple volumes) are perhaps his most populated and more known about, but he has produced a treasure trove of outstanding recordings, with huge casts of musicians. 'Chouans' has such a large ensemble, I am refraining from trying to list them all, but for progressive rock fans, it does feature some members of Ange (the famous French band of the classic 70's).
The subject matter is his musical interpretation, based on the lesser known and dark side of the French Revolution, where poor people (peasants), priests, and nobles in the numbers of 300,000, were killed in the district of 'Vendee'. The music is simply amazing. The cover art may lead some to diversions of 'Oliver Twist' or a more comedic endeavor, but rest assured, this is dead serious glory of orchestra, choir, and rock band (the finest musicians). A quick glance at the back photo will show you the huge scale of the participants. As far as the lyrics all being in French, I have yet to find a progressive rock lover, or a choral lover, who dislikes any French language work. Think of all the masterpieces of Celtique folk by Malicorne, Alan Stivell (who did the marvelous 'Symphonie Celtique', way past his solo harp music),Gwendal, and endless others, and how those absolutely silky and sensuous vocals pleased our souls.
Although the topic may be about a part of history that is rarely revealed or spoken about (in fact Alan Simon is the first composer to put this unsettling occurrence to music), due to the shame of the French people in general, the music is not depressing or negative in any way. It keeps a heavenly and dramatic character about, and has such impact, the listener will not soon forget the sprawling work. It is superb in every way, having a capability to bring together classical, folk, choral, opera, and arena rock fans (I use that one loosely, as the stereotypical rock band of this sort does not apply) together. With arrangements that tingle the eardrums, give goosebumps to the skin, and sometimes will have you wanting to dance in the middle of the room; what this prolific French composer brings us, is the finest progressive rock fused, symphonic choral display one could dream of. The magic of full orchestration, bagpipes, luxuriant choir, distinct vocals, and five-star musicians, results in up and above the clouds music. EXTREMELY RECOMMENDED.
©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 9 - 30 - 2019