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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 | 196 ratings

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The Mentalist
4 stars ROCK MUSIC IS MANIFESTLY IN THE WRONG ZONE WHEN SET BESIDE A SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA --Frank Zappa

Although the quotation above is undoubtedly true, it didn't stop Zappa from meeting the challenges that arise when one tries to integrate amplified rock music with an acoustic orchestra. Many have tried: most have failed. And this has generally not been the fault of the music, rather, the laws of acoustics have determined in advance that incongruity shall prevail. (some horribly inept orchestrations might also be to blame).

So how does Jon Lord and Deep Purple's 'Concerto for group and orchestra' fare in regards to the major pitfalls of sonic incongruity and orchestral ineptitude? Well, in terms of marrying rock band and orchestra (the marriage of heaven and hell?) , we come up against the same age-old problems: a poorly rehearsed, indifferent, snobbish and at times damn right hostile orchestra (remember this was 1969: the musical establishment had never witness the likes of this sort of thing); and a rock band that was always going to be too loud.

As far as the music and that all-important orchestration goes, well, it's really rather good. The orchestration is so good in fact, it makes one wonder if Jon Lord maybe had a bit more help from conductor/composer, Malcolm Arnold, than he's letting on. If the scoring is all Lord's own work, then for a first attempt at a major orchestral work, it's pretty impressive.

Certainly the music and orchestration is not in the least bit original and much of it sounds uncannily like Jean Sibelius. However, this in itself is no mean feat. There's shades of Shostakovich, especially in the final movement. And a strong English influence can be heard, e.g. Bax, Vaughn Williams, Holst, etc. Naturally, the influence of Malcolm Arnold, himself, can be heard - a composer for whom Jon Lord has great admiration and who put his not inconsiderable reputation on the line to conduct the concert. It's interesting to note that Arnold had this to say about the music " 'I met Jon Lord, listened to what he had written so far, and knew right away that it was extraordinarily good". High praise, indeed.

The first movement's seven minutes-worth of opening material is pure Sibelius with a hint of the opening of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring'. It's without much warning that Deep Purple enter the fray and literally blow the entire orchestra out of the water with their own take on the thematic material, which then leads into a great solo by Blackmore, and later a slightly shorter one by Lord. Throughout this movement there is no attempt by Jon Lord to reconcile the two forces: It is a battle between Rock and the Establishment. The movement ends with staccato stabs from both band and orchestra and is reminiscent of the end of 'Mars' from Holst's 'Planet Suite'. The second movement is much calmer and more reflective. The orchestra plays a beautiful melody which is then set to words and sung by Ian Gillan. When played by the orchestra, the melody sound typically English. When sung, it's given a 6/8 swing treatment that totally transforms it. Whichever way it's played, there's no denying that it's a very lovely melody, indeed. The movement features some fine guitar playing from Blackmore, and a considered Hammond organ cadenza from Lord and ends with a short, plaintive fugal passage on the main theme.

The last movement is, by Jon Lord's own admission, heavily influenced by the great Shostakovich. It's a fast and furious movement that attempts to fully integrate band and orchestra. (The writing for horns is worthy of note.) We also get to hear a drum solo from a then very young, Ian Paice, who shows himself to be a precocious talent. The movement ends with much syncopation and Shostakovian menace. (played very badly by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, I hasten to add)

All in all, a noble attempt at trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, and for 1969, was audacious to say the least. In many ways it succeeds where others have failed: It's more ambitious than the attempts by Emerson and the Nice; (although I do like the 'Five Bridges Suite') more original than ELP's disastrous effort, which, let's face it, was just a case of dressing-up their old material in orchestral clothing. Ditto, Yes' and Tull's recent attempts. Then there is dear old Camel, whose delightful 'Snow Goose' would probably have been better off without an orchestra. There's countless others I shudder to even think about...Rick Wakeman's efforts, for instance Only a scant few from that era have surpassed 'Concerto for group and orchestra'. I'm thinking of Zappa's '200 Motels' and 'Ahead of their Time' which are altogether on a different level. The additional disc in this set contains previously unreleased performances of 'Hush' 'Wring that Neck' and 'Child in time' from the same concert. These are performed without orchestra. I give this album * * * * but if there were a rating system for sheer audacity, I'd give it * * * * * x 100

You have been listening to the ramblings of ThE mEnTaLiSt.

'There is no possible justification for the arrogant, high-minded way in which British music critics treat musicians. These critics are a standing joke throughout the world ... Let us say down, down, down with the music critics before they make our music the arid and joyless music of the concentration camp'

Malcolm Arnold, The Guardian, 3rd June 1971

The Mentalist | 4/5 |

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