It was Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen who made me take the plunge into the mysterious waters of "classical music" by recommending that all aspiring guitarists study Nicolo Paganini's piece 24 Caprices for Solo Violin. Although I was not a guitarist, I enjoyed Malmsteen's music and wanted to hear what might have influenced him. So it was off to the local Wooden Nickel for a shiny black platter (CDs were still a year or two away) that would lead to my immersion in the classical realm.
It is only fitting that Yngwie would eventually release a classical album of his own. This is not a collection of classical music covers such as the excellent CD by Accept-guitarist Wolf Hoffmann, but original compositions for a real orchestra with solo guitar. Overall, he succeeds. The opening track is based on one of my favorite Malmsteen compositions, "Icarus Dream Suite" from his first album. Here the main melodies are taken and transformed to the symphony, themes that were quite symphonic when played by a rock band over a decade ago and are right at home with a full orchestra. "Prelude to April" is another fine piece with lots of arpeggiated chords and chromatic runs against a soft string and choral background. In fact, this piece would be an easy fit on one of his rock records just by replacing the simple orchestra part with keyboards. The listener will find some nice horns melodies (most of the album is comprised of just the string section and guitar) in the tenth track which is very dramatic and compelling and although part of the concerto, it is a self-contained piece.
While the music in general is surprisingly good, there are a few shortcomings. By definition, a concerto is a solo instrument interacting with the orchestra. While there is some of that here, the majority of the music feels like Yngwie soloing over an orchestral background, not interacting with it. His trademark clean, lean Strat sound is a bit thin when trying to play against a full orchestra... it tends to get lost at times. But these are minor complaints for a project such as this. Yngwie is a big fan of Bach and Vivaldi and so the music is very influenced by the Baroque era. If you are a fan of Malmsteen's guitar playing, his instrumental pieces on his solo albums, or even a fan of Bach, this unique album deserves a place in your collection.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, February 2001.