Winterthrough (2008, 46.17) ***½/TTT
|Entering the Halls of Winter
Over the Plain
The Crystal Light
|Through Winter's Air
ii. New Year's Theme
iii. Winter's End
iv. Celebration/To the Open Fields...
Springsong (Restyled) (2009, originally recorded 2002, 58.45) ****/TTT
|In the Open Fields
Living Stone and 1st Reprise
She Sat Writing Letters on the Riverbank
The Underwater and 2nd Reprise
The Wood is Alive With the Smell
of the Rain
|Evocation of Spring in a Fastdance
Toward the Sea
Autumn Symphony (2009, 41.35) ****/TTTOpen Windows to Autumn
Leaves in the Well (including Riverbank Prelude)
Out of Water
As the Night Gives Birth to the Morning
Trees in November
Autumn's Last Breath/The Gates of Winter
Summereve (2011, 43.57) ***½/TTT
i. Rite of Summer
ii. In the Rising Sun
iii. The Last Shades of Winter
iv. A Church Beyond the Lake
v. La Route pour Finistére
Glares of Light
On the Sea
Prelude of an Elegy
Edge of Summer
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Chapter One (2012, 58.55) ***½/TTTTPrologue
After several albums using Mellotron samples, Fabio Zuffanti has finally sourced a real M400 for use on his multifarious projects (Finisterre, Maschera di Cera, LaZona etc.), which has to be good news. As far as Hostsonaten (or Höstsonaten) go, their first real 'Tron album was 2008's Winterthrough, a good, if not outstanding effort that loses its way slightly in the middle; I applaud the experimentation with brass on several tracks, but I'm reminded slightly too much of some of Rick Wakeman's exceedingly patchy mid-'70s work in places. Personally, I find the album's bookends (and two longest tracks), Entering The Halls Of Winter and Rainsuite, to be the best material here, but there's nothing here that should offend fans of 'classic' prog. Alessandro Corvaglia plays Mellotron, with major string and choir parts on Entering The Halls Of Winter, choirs on Snowstorm, Over The Plain, The Crystal Light and Outside and finally, more strings and choirs on the various parts of Rainsuite, making for a worthy effort all round.
Fabio quickly followed Winterthrough with an unusual project: Springsong (Restyled), a partial re-recording/remix of their wonderful 2002 release (reviewed below), with extra added M400, although it doesn't seem that they've repeated the trick for their 1997 eponymous debut and the following year's Mirrorgames, sadly. It's a beautiful album, as you'd expect, essentially the original recording with a few overdubs, preserving the folky, slightly Celtic feel of the original. Luca Scherani adds Mellotron, with strings and choir on Kemper/Springtheme, Living Stone And 1st Reprise and The Underwater And 2nd Reprise, strings on the folky The Wood Is Alive With The Smell Of The Rain and part one of Toward The Sea, Blackmountains, with choir on part two, 3rd Reprise and both on parts three and four, Seasoncycle'd End and Grand Finale/Springland. This new version boasts a bonus track, the lengthy, fully acoustic (and therefore Mellotron-free) Suite Bretonne, that mutated into Springsong itself.
2009's Autumn Symphony is their second album of new material made under the new, tape-replay based regime, and is as, well, autumnal as you might hope throughout most of its length, although I'm unconvinced by the beginning of the strangely jaunty Trees In November. The bulk of the record consists of sparse, keyboard-led, all instrumental (excluding the occasional wordless vocals), mostly very beautiful, very Italian progressive rock which, like its predecessors, is a bit of an essential purchase for anyone wanting to hear some current prog that doesn't pander in any way to the '80s horrors. Highlights include Leaves In The Well (Including Riverbank Prelude), Nightswan I and closer Autumn's Last Breath/The Gates Of Winter, although there's very little wrong with anything here, to be honest. Zuffanti plays Mellotron, amongst other elderly instruments, with strings on opener Open Windows To Autumn, what sounds like Chamberlin solo male voice (sourced from where?) on Leaves In The Well, strings on Out Of Water and As The Night Gives Birth To The Morning and choirs on Nightswan II, Trees In November and Autumn's Last Breath/The Gates Of Winter.
Early 2011 brings us the last instalment in the series, Summereve, a decent effort, although it relies too heavily on the neo-prog trope (copped from Genesis originally, of course) of big, dramatic Mellotron chords over Taurus pedals (classic example: about three minutes into Prelude Of An Elegy). A great effect, but the trick is to move away from 'standard' voicings, which few of the neo- crowd ever worked out. Anyway, decent material throughout, if rarely outstanding, ten-minute opener Seasons's Overture being probably the best thing here, although I'm not sure what's supposed to be happening at the end of the album as, instead of reaching a major climax (so to speak), the last track merely peters out. Scherani on Mellotron again, with choirs, strings and flutes on Seasons's Overture, background choirs on Glares Of Light, more upfront ones on Evening Dance, choirs ands strings on On The Sea, distant strings (as against string synth) on Blackmountains and finally, strings and choir on closer Edge Of Summer.
2012's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Chapter One returns to an early Hostsonaten theme, first explored on their first two albums, fifteen years earlier, Zuffanti getting off lightly here, as two of the album's five tracks (Parts I and II) are re-recordings of those two pieces. Lyrically, Coleridge's original poem seems to be quoted directly, or almost so, leaving a 'mere' three new, lengthy pieces to be written. Note, too, that this is just Chapter One... As with most Hostsonaten albums, it's a decent listen without being in any great danger of challenging the genre 'greats'; I'm particularly unconvinced by the sections (not least in Prologue) where the band 'rocks out'. Stick to the symphonic stuff, guys... Edmondo Romano's bagpipes and other Celtic woodwinds on Part IV are a welcome diversion, but the whole could've been improved by the excision of several minutes of unnecessary rocking. Scherani adds Mellotron choirs and strings to every track, plus flutes on Part IV, giving this their highest 'T' rating yet.
Like the band's previous work, these are more than worthy of your hard-earned on both musical and Mellotronic fronts; go on, splash out...
Höstsonaten (with or without the extraneous umlaut) are effectively Finisterre bassist Fabio Zuffanti's side-project. Finisterre are one of the few current Italian bands to have taken their country's 1970s heritage and run with it, rather than simply sunk into a mire of tedious neo-progisms like many I could name. Zuffanti carries on the good work here, with a type of lush, folk-influenced symphonic Italian progressive that has barely been heard since the glory days of the mid to late '70s; think Celeste, Locanda Delle Fate, or even PFM. The only real downside to these albums is their thankfully infrequent lapse into neo-prog territory, both in the odd bit of straightforward composition and the occasional use of riffing guitar, when keyboards/bass pedals can provide more genuine bottom-end power.
There's some confusion over their debut, Höstsonaten, as while the front cover clearly only says 'Hostsonaten', the CD spine says 'Finisterre Project'. It would appear that this was Mellow Records' attempt to attract Finisterre fans who otherwise may have been unaware of the connection; it seems those 'in the know' tend to ignore this, and class the album as the first by Hostsonaten. It basically consists of a brief cover of Japanese prog gods Mugen's Sinfonia Della Luna, two middling-length tracks at the end and a huge, sprawling epic in the eight-part, 40-minute plus title track. The music is generally of a very high standard; those of you into the '70s greats are unlikely to be disappointed by the bulk of this album, although the band's compositional standards slump slightly on the rather ordinary Remember You. Osvaldo Giordano's sampled Mellotron work crops up here and there across the album's length, without ever being that obtrusive or overbearing; subtlety - remember that? Anyway, all I can hear are string parts on all but the first track; the choirs are generic mushy samples and all the flutes are real.
Mirrorgames, from the following year, is a worthy effort, but suffers slightly in comparison to its predecessor, although had you not heard Höstsonaten, it would probably strike you as excellent, as against merely very good. Zuffanti still occasionally slips into neo-proggish writing mode, particularly on the rather unimaginative end section of Ellipsis, which sounds closer to IQ than, say, Le Orme. Like its predecessor, the album is a little overlong, with its two multi-part epics adding up to about the length of Höstsonaten's one, although these criticisms are rather unfair, given the overall quality of the material. Hats off to Zuffanti for refusing to bow to the Europe-wide neo-prog hegemony that has produced so much rubbish over the last fifteen years or so; amongst the few honourable exceptions, Finisterre and Hostsonaten are somewhere near the top. Osvaldo Giordano does a similar job as before on the fakeotron, with short bursts of strings throughout, few parts lasting longer than 30 seconds.
It took Zuffanti four years to come up with the project's third album, the all-instrumental Springsong, which has a decidedly folkier influence than its two predecessors. His band seem to be at their best when they do that 'acoustic guitar plus flute or violin' thing, but when they try to 'rock out' it all falls a bit flat. Saying that, the album has many moments of musical ecstasy, not least opener In The Open Fields and the last part of Toward The Sea, Springland, despite its being one of the more uptempo pieces. Agostino Macor plays 'Tron samples this time round and his work is excellent throughout, particularly on the strings, although I'm sure I'd have preferred it if the band had throttled back across the entire length of the album. Then again, variety is the spice of life...
2004's Springtides: A Collection of Rare & Unreleased Tracks, 1992-2002 is exactly what it says on the tin, unsurprisingly, its contents veering between the excellent (Seascape, the ten-minute Morning) and the excruciating (the primitive, neo-ish Season Of Eve and Aries), the latter not helped by the decision to include several very rough demos. In fairness, much of the rather overlong album is a good listen, but two or three tracks chopped off the running order would have actually improved it. Samplotron strings (notably on Morning) and choir on several tracks, although rarely that overt.
Moving on over a decade, the band's 2016 release, Symphony N. 1: Cupid & Psyche, adds a small orchestra to the proceedings, allowing for brass and woodwind parts to enter the mix. The end result, while good-to-excellent, at least in places, edges a little too close to 'Lloyd Webber prog' for my personal tastes, although, at least, that tiresome sub-genre's off-Broadway vocal stylising is nowhere to be heard on this all-instrumental album. Although Scherani is credited with Mellotron, the choirs on several tracks really aren't cutting the mustard, particularly noticeable in the fast run on Venus (1st Trail).
So; an excellent band, almost rivalling the '70s Italian greats in places, although they can be a little inconsistent. To my ears, Höstsonaten probably has the edge over the other two, although Springsong is the one that breaks the mould, being both more acoustic and fully instrumental. To be honest, if you like the style, you can't really go too far wrong with any of these, with the caveat that Zuffanti's chief influence is '70s progressive, as against the pot-pourri of styles soaked up by his influences themselves. Isn't that always the way, though? Mellosamplingly speaking, all three albums feature it used with great restraint, so don't go expecting huge slabs everywhere you look, despite the number of relevant tracks.
Fabio informs me that although these three albums all used samples, their subsequent release, 2008's Winterthrough, uses a real one. What's more, Springsong has been reissued in 2009 as Springsong Restyled, remixed and with new parts added, including genuine Mellotron.
Official Fabio Zuffanti site
See: Finisterre | Maschera di Cera | LaZona | Fabio Zuffanti | Fabio Zuffanti & Victoria Heward