CONCERTO FOR GROUP AND ORCHESTRA
Deep Purple; The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold
Harvest SHVL 767, 1970
Issued in US as Tetragrammaton T-131, then Warner Bros. WS 1860, 1970
Reissued with extra material as EMI CDP 7 94886-2, 1991
Sooner or later, classical training will out. Jon Lord, who studied classical piano as a schoolboy, apparently started thinking about fusing rock and classical styles during the middle Sixties, and indeed his band of the period incarnated as the Artwoods and metamorphosed into St. Valentine's Day Massacre did at one time plan to perform with an orchestra in Germany, but the band was already disintegrating and nothing ever came of it. Lord didn't let go of the idea, though, and he continued to work up rock/orchestral snippets after the formation, breakup, and reformation of Deep Purple, to the presumed despair of Purple manager Tony Edwards, who finally decided to force Lord to put up or shut up. It was April 1969; Edwards had booked the Royal Albert Hall for the debut of Lord's symphony, or concerto, or whatever, on the 24th of September, and it had better be ready.
Malcolm Arnold became involved in the project after friend Ben Nisbet, whose publishing firm handled Deep Purple, showed him early pages from Lord's score. By all accounts he was enthusiastic about the work. Not so the RPO, which reckoned itself too good for this sort of pop stuff. Arnold informed them in standard autocratic-conductor style that this was music, dammit, and there were no more outbursts.
And Sir Malcolm, as it turned out, was right. Lord's first movement, moderato becoming allegro moderato, begins in a pastoral mode with a clarinet melody, followed by a five-note motif, variations on these themes, and finally, about seven minutes in, the band bashes its way into the proceedings: guitarist Ritchie Blackmore picks up the original clarinet tune, and the band settles into a groove. For the balance of the movement, it's Dueling Musical Forces all the way, and by the time the second movement, andante, begins, you get the feeling that the inevitable friction between band and orchestra has been duly dissipated. Two themes dominate this movement, one on cor anglais, a stronger one on flutes, and neither group or orchestra attempts to seize the upper hand; it's a fully-collaborative effort. Ian Gillan even gets to sing here, and legend has it he made up a lot of the words at the last minute.
Nothing in the preceding two movements, though, quite prepares you for the aural fireworks of the third, allegro vivace into presto, in which the orchestra and the group are brilliantly intertwined and textures and timbres of every kind are woven into the high-velocity mix. Even the obligatory drum solo, in which Ian Paice tosses in every fill and roll known to mankind, fits. And finally, amid screaming brass, swirling strings, and Lord's whirling organ, it all comes down to one last chord, fortissimo.
The critics weren't quite sure what to make of all this, though there were few outright pans, and Lord tossed in a remark in the original liner notes about how "critics are a necessary, if slighly archaic, appendage to the music business." And it's true, some of the orchestral bits not to mention the inevitable rock clichés seem slightly derivative, but where does it say that every coachbuilder has to reinvent the wheel? Many have envisioned this sort of fusion of rock and the classics; so far, Deep Purple is the only band that's really pulled it off.
Further exploration: The first half of the concert program that night presented Arnold's Symphony No. 6, followed by a three-song set by the band; two of the songs ("Wring That Neck" and "Child in Time") appear on the CD release of the Concerto.
On the strength of the Concerto, the BBC commissioned Jon Lord to write another work of this sort; the Gemini Suite debuted 17 September 1970 at the Royal Festival Hall with the band, the Light Music Society, and once again Malcolm Arnold conducting. A reworked version was issued on the band's Purple label (TPSA 7501) in the UK and in the US on Purple/Capitol SMAS 870.
An Edwards Coletta Production
Posted 11 March 2001
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Copyright © 2001 by Charles G. Hill
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