Judge Joel Pearce most identifies with wife #4. Poor Anne of Cleves...
The ultimate concert venue for a prog-rock classic.
As legend has it, when Rick Wakeman first released The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 1973, he made a special request to do a performance of the album at Hampton Court. That request never went through, until the opportunity finally arrived in 2009. This disc records that concert, a special part of Henry VIII's 500th anniversary celebration.
You are probably already feeling one of two things. Either you are excited that Rick Wakeman finally got this opportunity and are currently fiddling with your iPod to get some classic prog-rock going, or you are ready to move on as a Rick Wakeman non-fan, wondering what all the fuss is about.
It seems the audience at Hampton Court shares the same mix of people. It's fascinating as the camera turns back to the crowd. Some people are standing and cheering as though the Beatles had just gotten back together, and others are sitting and watching quietly, looking just a little perplexed by the whole affair.
Therefore, we can group the rest of the review into two sections. The first is for those who have no interest in Rick Wakeman, since it's an easier recommendation: don't bother. The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Live at Hampton Court isn't going to convert anyone to prog-rock fandom, nor is it going to have a major impact on Wakeman's popularity with any group. For me, the whole album feels like a build-up to a better piece of music, almost like a soundtrack with the melody removed. That's a bit unfair, since the concert is both well-orchestrated and performed, but the synthesizers that Wakeman plays so well don't match up that great alongside an honest-to-goodness orchestra and choir. To me, it's sort of like having Jimmy Page play backup to a guy playing the banjo.
For fans of prog-rock and Rick Wakeman, however, this disc offers a much greater value. The show has a fascinating combination of Hampton Court-level class and early '70s glitz, and Wakeman has gone all-out by hiring Brian Blessed (Henry V) to read the between-songs information about the six wives. Blessed digs in with gusto, even though it sometimes appears that he didn't take the time to read these descriptions before arriving on the stage. The music is clearly better-rehearsed, as the performance shows the level of polish that you would expect from a concert of this pedigree.
More importantly, The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Live at Hampton Court has arrived on a fine Blu-Ray disc. The concert stage is bathed in dim red and blue light, which was the kiss of death for many concert DVDs. The high-def recording retains much more detail, though it is always blatantly clear that it was shot in high def digital. Overall, it's a video transfer that will please fans. The audio comes in a highly recommended DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, as well as a standard Dolby 5.1 and Linear PCM 2.0. It's a reasonably conservative mix, that places most of the audio squarely in the front soundstage, wisely using the rear channels to add a bit of depth. If you're a huge fan of the album, this won't replace being at Hampton Court for the concert, but it's about as close as you can get. The disc has a production featurette and some liner notes, but nothing else in the way of special features.
If it sounds like The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Live at Hampton Court is a disc you would want in your collection, it probably is. For everyone else, this is not going to sell you on Rick Wakeman or his music. That said, it's a solid enough release to earn a good solid…
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