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Not for everyday listening unfortunately...
on 9 May 2010
If you're looking for a glorious, all-encompassing surround sound Hergest Ridge, you won't find it here. Instead, Oldfield appears to have used the multi-channel 5.1 DVD to showcase elements from the original recording sessions that were either ommitted from previous versions or else relegated to the background. In many cases, it's easy to see why they were. For example, the plinky guitar that now dominates the sleigh bells section from 12:12 to 14:05 sounds horrendous, is poorly played and frequently out of time. The guitar solos introduced over the ensuing choir (16:45 to 18:04) are clearly unfinished practice sessions that do not sound good individually or mingle well either. But I suppose it's interesting to hear such things for the very first time.
At various points, instruments and phrases from the previous versions of the album come and go - perhaps as subtle reminders, or maybe just randomly since they sometimes disappear half way through a note! The electric guitar in the background between 5:18 and 5:45 is the obvious example. Many instruments, such as the mandolin at 2:45, sound very processed and are far too loud in the mix, while other sections sound very flat. Worst of all, at 6:10 there is an audible click and most of the mix disappears altogether - perhaps a fault in the mastering? Between 14:40 and 15:25, the joyous guitar workout over the sleigh bells has lost its first `verse' entirely, rendering one of the most beautiful parts of Hergest Ridge short and somewhat perfunctory. The ensuing choir, which should come in with an awesome roar at 16:05, limps in apologetically.
So is there any good news? Well, thankfully, yes. The slight hiss of previous releases is gone and the whole thing sounds brighter and more detailed. The ethereal reverb added to the opening sections is wonderfully spatial, and individual moments sound fantastic. Many of the newly-incorporated alternative takes are fine, such as the swoop of the glider at 6:30 and the acoustic guitars/ whispering choir at 8:13. Part Two has plenty of good fresh elements with no especially dubious ones - but it does sound somewhat flatter than Part One. The stereo CD version of the new 2010 mix is actually preferable to its 5.1 counterpart, being better balanced and lacking some of the more questionable additions. The inclusion of the original vinyl mix on CD for the first time is welcome (but note it sounds no better than many of the bootlegs available for years). Best of all, the original demo of Hergest Ridge is a revelation, often wildly different from the final release and worth repeated listens in its own right.
Overall, I'm not sure what I would have preferred: a crystal-clear 5.1 version of the existing CD that we all know and love (but which might have led to accusations of Oldfield lazily cashing in); or this odd 2010 hybrid of previously-disregarded elements - which at least offers some fresh perspectives. Either way, perhaps a 'Deluxe' version should also have included the Orchestral Hergest Ridge. Excellent stereo recordings of this also exist - but maybe that will appear on The Ultimate Deluxe Beyond Deluxe edition!