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Deep Purple - Concerto for Group and Orchestra CD (album) cover

CONCERTO FOR GROUP AND ORCHESTRA

Deep Purple

 

Proto-Prog

3.19 | 194 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Concerto for group OR orchestra

Contrary to many people's perception, the first album released by the classic mark 2 line up of Deep Purple was not "In Rock", but this live recording. Very much a Jon Lord project, this was one of several attempts around this time (1969) to bring together a rock group and an orchestra. The bands concerned went about it in different ways, with Procol Harum simply orchestrating existing material, the Moody Blues creating essentially a symphonic pop album while The Nice made a rock album with orchestral support.

Lord decided to attempt to write something which was essentially classical, but with digressions into rock from time to time. He had been working on the project for many years, an indication of the way he was thinking coming on the final track "April" on the band's third (self titled) album. When Lord finally managed to get the go ahead, he had just three months to compose the score ready for the planned event at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH) in London. Incidentally, the score was subsequently lost, being painstakingly re-created by a fan many years later, but that's another story.

The gig at the RAH took place on 24th September 1969. The first part of the performance was a recital by the orchestra alone of a symphony written by their conductor Malcolm Arnold. There then followed a band performance of three of their songs, with the concerto occupying the latter part of the evening. Only the actual concerto appeared on the original LP release. This was partially rectified on the 1990 CD version, when two of the three band tracks were added to the start of the CD. These are a 13 minute version of "Wring that neck", a song originally recorded by the mark 1 line up prior to the arrival of Gillan and Glover, and "Child in time" which had then yet to appear on a studio album. The other song was "Hush" by the way.

"Wring that neck" is effectively a vehicle to allow the band to loosen up through a guitar and organ based jam. The version of "Child in time" here lacks the refinement of the subsequent studio recording, but in some ways that is what makes it alluring. That said, this is pretty much the finished product here.

The Concerto is divided into 3 lengthy parts running to just under an hour, with the titles of the "Movements" using classical terms such as Allegro, Andante and Vivace-presto to emphasise the ambitions of the composition. Overall, it is a powerful piece, which tends to fall into the trap which catches many aspiring rock/classical composers of relying to heavily on the percussion, especially timpani.

The second section is the most accessible and the softest. The strings are the most dominant overall in this movement, while Gillan adds some regal vocals. The final section is marred by an unnecessary drum solo which completely destroys the "Concerto" notion. This part of the movement is an indulgence pure and simple and should never have made it into the composition. Thankfully, the rest of the band and orchestra are soon back from their comfort break, and things continue as before.

The main criticism which can be levelled at the concerto is that it largely fails in its objective. Group and orchestra do not really work together at all, with one or the other taking centre stage at any given time. This leads to rather jarring contrasts between the two styles, which in turn makes for a rather disjointed feel. I have seen it said that this was deliberate on the part of Lord, who wanted to demonstrate through the three movements how the two opposites (band and orchestra) start of apart, but move together as the piece progresses. While the intention is undoubtedly noble, whether it works is open to debate.

All that aside though, this album is further evidence of the prog credentials of this fine band.

Easy Livin | 3/5 |

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