Concerto For Group And Orchestra
REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/09/2008
The late ‘60s were fertile ground for progressive rock and its musicians, ambitiously seeking to introduce more complex, classical elements into rock music in order to be accepted as serious artists and, in their eyes, lend the genre more legitimacy. Deep Purple, who had exhibited some subtle progressive rock influences on their first three albums, jumped into the fold full on with their 1969 release, Concerto For Group And Orchestra, one of the first major attempts to fuse rock and classical music.
Only a few months prior, the first of many line-up changes to come had occurred with the firing of singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper, who were replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, thereby creating the most famous formation of Deep Purple (a.k.a. “Mark II”). Needless to say, this mostly orchestral live release is a fairly bizarre way of debuting a fundamentally altered band.
Concerto For Group And Orchestra is the brainchild of keyboardist Jon Lord, who had introduced an increasing number of classical touches over the course of the band’s first three albums. Living up to its name, this disc represents a culmination of everything he had been striving for, with the actual band and rock style relegated to a mere afterthought in the face of his symphonic juggernaut.
True to the meaning of the “concerto” term, this grand composition features a large orchestral score in three movements (or distinct musical sections, for those not familiar with classical music), with much space given to a particular instrument (or in this case, a group, Deep Purple) to showcase its abilities in both lengthy solo passages and in duels with the orchestra. Amazingly, the entire fifty-three minute work was entirely composed and scored (no doubt with assistance from Sir Malcolm Arnold, who also conducted it on this live recording at
After a couple of regular Deep Purple songs, (grossly over-extended versions of “Wring That Neck” and the brand new “Child In Time,” immaturely showing off Ian Gillan’s insane vocal range), the concerto itself begins.
A modern sounding tonal work, it does not contain any nods to the more avant-garde sounds prevalent in much classical music of that time. Lord’s influences here seem to vary mainly amongst Holst, Mahler, Elgar, and perhaps even, I suspect,
The brassy, masculine score with a series of powerful, militaristic repeating musical themes is balanced with a number of more playful, scampering sections, and a mellower middle movement. It reminds me somewhat of the more memorable film scores of John Williams. This provides a thoroughly delightful listening experience, and shows the unusually strong compositional talents of Jon Lord, who, I must say, honestly wasted his talent by remaining in Deep Purple for another thirty-three years after successfully accomplishing a work of this quality and scope. I’m sure he could have become a much sought after film score composer much like Danny Elfman, who abandoned a highly successful career with rock band Oingo Boingo to follow such a path to great acclaim.
Where the concerto really fails is with the interaction between the band and the orchestra. I would say that 99 percent of the time they play entirely separate from one another rather than forming a cohesive entity. Naturally part of a concerto’s purpose is to let the featured element shine in the spotlight with extended solos, and Deep Purple is given plenty of such opportunities, and occasionally they mirror some of the orchestral themes, but most of the time they get bogged down in aimless blues jams.. Ian Gillan only gets a very brief appearance on vocals, which really makes me wonder what he was doing on stage the rest of the time. This clear divide is never bridged at any point, giving the impression of rather jarring, momentary transitions between orchestra and group rather than providing the requisite harmonic union.
And that is the dilemna that Concerto For Group And Orchestra ultimately faces – it is a pompous experiment that doesn’t satisfy either camp. The dramatic orchestral part is very well composed and charismatic and well worth hearing, but while the band sections are well performed, they don’t seem to relate to the larger work and thus feel more like an intrusion that makes the concerto suffer overall. Eliminate the band parts and you’d have a worthwhile orchestral work of symphonic scale that doesn’t get dragged down with the sideshow rock nonsense that the band makes no attempt to integrate. If you’re looking for a marriage of classical and rock, there are many other bands, almost all European, that have pulled it off in a much more effective manner, particularly in the melodic power metal genre in recent years.