I can remember listening to Deep Purple’s
(or I should say, Jon Lord’s) “Concerto for Group and
Orchestra” at the CSUN Music Library, when I was in
college. At that time, Deep Purple was one of my
favorite bands. In many respects, they still are,
particularly the Mark II lineup from 1969 to 1973.
I thought it was cool that my favorite Rock band
was playing an actual Concerto written for them,
with the world-class Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The recording of the concert was released under
the Harvest label, and it was difficult to find, which
made hearing the library copy even more valuable.
This recording captured the world premiere performance,
given at the Royal Albert Hall in September 1969,
under the baton of noted conductor/composer,
Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006). Although it was not
a “great” piece of music, it was the first piece of its kind,
and my fascination with it has endured. Obviously,
Deep Purple organist Jon Lord (1941-2012) had strong
Classical music roots, and this was his first composition
for a full orchestra. It was also interesting to hear how
he tackled the Concerto compositional form, using
a Rock band as the “soloist,” instead of the usual piano,
violin or some other instrument.
I won’t get into a detailed critique of the actual
composition; however, I will say that Deep Purple
fans who haven’t heard this recording simply must,
if only to experience a vintage Deep Purple
performance given shortly after the arrival of band
members Roger Glover and Ian Gillan.
But wait, I’ve got better news! The entire concert
and a few minutes of press footage was filmed and
released on DVD in 2003 by Eagle Vision. It was nice
to finally see and hear this performance. For me,
the bonus audio commentary by Jon Lord was also
essential. All of the problems involved in this bold
undertaking were recounted by Lord, thereby
providing his valuable insight about the final product.
As Lord made it abundantly clear, there was not
adequate rehearsal time and although this
top-notch orchestra was enlisted, the resulting
sound was second-rate. One of the reasons cited
for the outcome was the huge artistic divide
between the orchestra and the band. The working
methods of both groups were light-years’ apart;
therefore, you can imagine my fascination while
watching these seemingly disparate musical
entities “come together,” as it were.
Jon Lord recalled how it (barely) managed to happen
at all, referencing his numerous reorchestrations for
certain parts of the piece. In fact, there are more
recent recordings of the work available, and I’m
looking forward to checking them out. But this is
where it all started, and I’m glad that I began by
watching this 52-minute DVD. Considering when the
concert was given, the stereo sound quality was
surprisingly good–better than it was for the
musicians onstage. The camerawork was also
more than adequate, showing audience members
and conveying a general sense of the era.
Deep Purple fans like me who are also interested
in Classical music, simply must watch this DVD.
You’ll be glad that you did! Remember to also
listen to Jon Lord’s commentary. May he rest in peace.