ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA; "Queen Symphony" (EMI Classics)***
If you like Queen (the rock group), dramatic romantic works or new and unusual classical works, run out and buy "Queen Symphony." You won't be sorry.
The symphony, written and conducted by Tolga Kashif, orchestrated by Julian Kershaw and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is based on themes from Queen songs (yes, as in Freddie Mercury), and it's really pretty remarkable.
As absolute music, without any outside references, it works well. The orchestral writing is interesting and it can stand alone as a lush, romantic, if sometimes over-the-top choral symphony. It sometimes leans heavily toward "gloom and doom," though the "We Will Rock You" portion would make a great backdrop to an attack by the Orcs in "The Lord of the Rings."
If you like that sort of thing, you'll love this — but if Mozart chamber music is more your style, stay away.
What makes "Queen Symphony" especially fun are the Queen references. The CD cover lists the songs used as the basis for each movement — each uses more than one — so they're fairly easy to pick out.
In most of the movements, Kashif obscures each song just a little by using shorter phrases, developing them a bit and intertwining them with each other. He uses a mix of extremely popular songs — "We Are the Champions," "Another One Bites the Dust," "Bohemian Rhapsody" — and some that are not so popular — "Radio Gaga," "The Show Must Go On." The result is a fun, musical "Where's Waldo?"
In other places, Kashif comes right out and uses large portions of recognizable songs, such as "Bohemian Rhapsody," which at one point is a straight, orchestrated tune.
The melodies work remarkably well in a symphonic setting, and Kershaw does a nice job of orchestrating them. The drawback is that sometimes it's hard not to interpose the pop culture on the music. For example, it's difficult to block out a picture of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth in "Wayne's World" while listening to "Bohemian Rhapsody," and somehow, it's hard to feel as inspired as the music sounds by itself when the lyrics are running through your head.