The new release by popular Bonn Crossover musician Marcus Schinkel and his Voyager IV Band is an audacious musical spectacle in the best traditions of Progressive Classical Rock. ELP and Tangerine Dream have both taken a shot at Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ – now Schinkel takes a fresh look at those pictures – and in typical Marcus Schinkel style – he gives it a magnificent eye and ear-catching 21st Century new coat of paint.
Can there really be a genre known as ‘Progressive Rock’ in 2020? Quite simply, Rock has progressed. It’s split into microcosms of Punk-Rock, Techno-Rock. Folk-Rock, Grunge etc etc and so forth. It was all rather different in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Deep Purple sitting down with the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969 was really going one step beyond. By 1973 Rock with Classical overtones had become such a money-spinner that Mike Oldfield sold a million top of the range HiFi turntables when he released his Tubular Bells.
In between these two events Keith Emerson had taken time out to pick up on a somewhat obscure piano concerto by the equally obscure (to British Rockers anyway) Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. Emerson Lake and Palmer’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ was recorded at the normally hard rock promoting Newcastle City Hall in March 1971 and found its way from Geordie Land to many a mystified Rock fans ears, and rather like the fictional game Jumanji, it disappeared once again to fascinate a new ‘owner’ many years later.
Marcus Schinkel will be a familiar name to Bonn music lovers, He is one of that rare breed of musician who easily straddles Classical, Jazz and Rock. Fittingly for a Bonn local, Schinkel has most famously lent these talents to new interpretations of the City’s most famous son – with 2004’s ‘News from Beethoven’ and most recently, 2015’s ‘Crossover Beethoven’. it’s one thing to interpret Classical pieces themselves, but quite another though to interpret an interpretation – Or is this an interpretation of the original? Typically for Marcus Schinkel though, his band Voyager IV’s interpretation of the erstwhile piano concerto is an entity with nods to both Mussorgsky and ELP but ultimately with a life and style all its own.
Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures’ was a freeflow musical rendering inspired by individual paintings by Russian painter Viktor Hartmann. Baba Yaga, Promenade, The Bogatyr (Gates of Kiev) are all to be found in the artwork of Hartmann, the concerto of Mussorgsky, the concert of ELP and the CD of Voyager IV. Whether Schinkel takes his inspiration from the artwork, from the concerto or from the concert it’s difficult to tell for sure. A mixture of the original score given wings by the Rockstar flurry of ELP’s whirling Hammond sound and the mesmerizing vocals of Johannes Kuchta. There are nods to the ELP version in musical style for sure but just in case you miss the connection there is an excellent take of ‘Lucky Man’ which wasn’t actually on the Pictures disc but was released a couple of years previously with Greg Lake’s song containing one of the first recorded (literally) appearances of a Moog-synthesizer solo. I’m sure that fact wasn’t lost on Mr Schinkel, a mean synths man himself.
I love some of the oddball stuff on offer here. Bydlo was skipped over by ELP but Mussorgsky’s cattle cart inspired piece is turned into an entertaining infomatic-style speakover called ‘The Bullock Cart’ courtesy of messrs Schinkel and Kuchta. I had suspected that with a superb cover design by Lieve Vanderschaeve depicting Space and astronauts there was a theme decided on to pin the disparate artistic parts together but how can you really pull that off for an entire disc when you are following pieces devoted to catacombs and Bullock Carts? ‘The Great Gates of Kiev’ skirts the problem by taking the basic piano melody from Mussorgsky and adding lyrics telling the famous tale of an early adventure into the heavens with the sub-title ‘Daedelus Calling’. I love the mix of old and new which, for me anyway, is the whole discs highpoint – utilizing old composition with modern sound and production.
My advice is to stop trying to make sense of it all and just sit back and enjoy Marcus Schinkel and his marvellous band (Johannes Kuchta vocals, Wim de Fries drums and Fritz Roppel bass guitars). If you are lucky enough to be reading this locally in Germany then try and get to a live version of this. I’ve already caught it open-air at the Stadtgarten and can vouch that Schinkel and his colleagues are at the top of their game delivering a spectacle for eyes and ears with this one.