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Emerson Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition - 35th Anniversary Collectors Edition CD (album) cover

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION - 35TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTORS EDITION

Emerson Lake & Palmer

 

Symphonic Prog

3.56 | 86 ratings

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Syntharachnid
3 stars Okay, I can't honestly say that this is one of my favorite ELP releases, but it's not fully without appeal. I mean, a rock version of one of the greatest classical suites of all time done by three men who should understand how to approach such a project; how bad can it be? They did leave out some movements that would have sounded really good in a rock setting (The Ox Cart, The Roman Tomb), but they also wisely left out some movements that obviously wouldn't work (The Market, The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks). In compensation, there are a few ELP originals here, namely Greg Lake's classical guitar tune "The Sage", an extension of "The Old Castle" called "Blues Variations", and a new middle section of "The Hut on Fowl's Legs" entitled "The Curse of Baba Yaga". It's done live, and the band sound good, but not as good as on "Welcome Back My Friends." The band frequently moves into periods of Emersonian noise which I found kind of hard to bear at first. This leads me to another point: IF YOU AREN'T ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH ELP, DON'T BUY THIS. I made the mistake of making the concert DVD version of this the first I heard from ELP. Big mistake. I couldn't take the constant noise and thus I dismissed ELP for about a year before picking up "Brain Salad Surgery" and changing my mind. But despite the album's shortcomings, it has some great moments, and it's grown on me considerably since I've bought it. So let's begin our overview, shall we?

Alright, the album begins with a stirring Hammond B-3 Organ rendition of the introductory "Promenade". Not the best version on the disc, but it gets the show off to a good start. It is, I believe, identical to the original piano version. Carl and Greg are first introduced at the beginning of "The Gnome", a favorite movement from the original, faithfully arranged by Mr. Palmer. This is one of the two movements that work best as rock music. The concert DVD shows Carl having a jolly old time here, making faces while he plays. He's a great drummer, but the only guy that looks more ridiculous on stage is John Weathers, drummer of Gentle Giant. Keith has a tendency to go a little over the top on stage too, as you'll see on this video. But it suits him somehow. Greg is the most refined and calm on stage. After "The Gnome" is another "Promenade", with lyrics this time, which leads into "The Sage", a beautiful classical guitar piece with some of Lake's best lyrics and vocals. "The Old Castle". How they can call it that is beyond me, because it bears no similarity to the original. It begins with a period of synth noise and Emerson stage nonsense which evaporates into a cool Moog solo. (Another highlight of the DVD is the sight of Keith's massive Moog Modular synthesizer. All of the boxes that he's plugging patch cords into are modules of the same gigantic instrument!!!) It's a great solo, really it is, but it's not "The Old Castle". It's an Emerson original. "Blues Variations" is a continuation of the last movement into the realms of the Hammond Organ. One of the greatest moments on the DVD. However, the second half of the performance is ultimately better than the first. Almost flawless, actually. Where the first half was mostly okay and sometimes good, the second half is mostly good and sometimes okay. It opens with the most powerful "Promenade" on the album and careens on to "The Hut of Baba Yaga", the most popular part of the original. This is the other movement that lends itself best to a rock interpretation. It is left very close to the way it was originally, and works very nicely. The ELP original "The Curse of Baba Yaga" divides the two sections of this movement. It's a great tune, but on the concert DVD you don't see the band members because there are segments of Marvel comics flashing across the screen. Likewise, there are psychedelic colors flashing about during "Blues Variations". This, of course, is mildly annoying, but it was filmed in 1970, so it's somewhat to be expected. After the second part of "The Hut." comes and goes, the final part of the composition begins. "The Great Gates of Kiev" was the most moving part of the piano and orchestrated versions, and it's the same way here. The bit of noise that ensues when Emerson spins his Hammond B-3 around on its edge actually works here because it increases the emotional impact when Greg and Carl come back in for the grand finale. This is easily the best moment on the DVD, and ends an "okay" concert in a way that would make you think that the whole thing was great.

Most of the concerns I have with this DVD I've expressed above; noisy bits, ridiculous stage actions, Marvel comics, etc; but my main concern is that it really doesn't stand up well in front of Ravel's orchestrated version, or even to Mussorgsky's original piano version. But treated as an ELP album, and not as a classical adaptation, it flows pretty nicely and documents the band's live sound fairly well. A decent effort.

Syntharachnid | 3/5 |

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