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Last April, I did a post about the DVD of the first live
performance of Jon Lord’s “Concerto for Group and
Orchestra” in 1969, which featured Sir Malcolm Arnold
conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the
Royal Albert Hall. Recently, I watched a DVD of a
1999 performance of this work at the same venue,
“Deep Purple in Concert with the London Symphony
Orchestra, Conducted by Paul Mann.” It was released
by the Eagle Rock Entertainment label.

Since the first performance of this piece in 1969,
the group has performed it several times with various
orchestras, and I was naturally curious to see how
these performances sounded after 30 years.
Deep Purple organist Jon Lord (1941-2012) had
allegedly rewritten parts of this concerto, and I wanted
to hear how he’d “matured” as a composer. Based on
this performance, I’d honestly have to say, “Not much.”
As I discussed earlier, the piece itself wasn’t that good
as a Classical concerto, and although Lord must be
commended for his efforts, the orchestral writing was
clearly pedestrian. Of course, that didn’t keep me from
enjoying it, particularly where the band parts were
concerned and in all fairness, it contained some fairly
catchy tunes.

If anything, this “newer and improved” version was
bloated in some respects. The nearly seven-minute
orchestral introduction was disproportionately long for
a concerto. Other compositional touches here and
there were noticeable, but to my ears, they weren’t
necessarily “improvements.”

What were improved were the circumstances of this
performance and the quality of the playing, from both
the orchestra and the band. Although the slightly
reduced string contingent of the London Symphony
Orchestra clearly didn’t perform at their best, they
were more at ease with the music than the Royal
Philharmonic players were in 1969. This time, they weren’t
required to “fly by the seat of their pants,” and this
rendition had the benefit of superior sound. It was
also interesting to watch Steve Morse add his own
touches to the guitar parts, which were truly inspiring.
Not surprisingly, Ian Gillan’s voice didn’t have the
same beauty at age 54 that it possessed 30 years
earlier, but he acquitted himself fairly well. The total
running time of the piece was about 49 minutes,
including some inappropriate audience applause,
between the three movements.

The complete concert lasted approximately two
hours, and the aforementioned “Concerto” was
preceded by five songs and followed by five songs.
The first two songs were composed by Jon Lord
who played the piano, while conductor Paul Mann
and the orchestra accompanied vocalist Miller Anderson
on “Pictured Within” and vocalist Sam Brown on
“Wait a While.” Next up were Roger Glover’s
“Sitting in a Dream” as well as “Love is All,” from
his “Butterfly Ball” album. These tunes featured
the entire band, but Ronnie James Dio replaced
Ian Gillan on vocals! At first hearing, these songs
were nice, if not particularly memorable. Paul Mann
made a conscientious effort on the podium, and the
orchestral arrangements were decent. Five backup
horns and a solo violin were featured on a Big Band
version of “Wring That Neck,” originally from
Deep Purple’s 1968 album, “The Book of Taliesyn.”
I suppose it was okay.

The five songs that followed the “Concerto” were
“Ted the Mechanic,” “Watching the Sky,” “Sometimes
I Feel Like Screaming,” “Pictures of Home,” and a
free-for-all version of “Smoke on the Water,” with
Dio and the musicians onstage and audience participation.

The first three of this last group of songs were from
the Steve Morse era of Deep Purple. Therefore,
I wasn’t as familiar with them. Nevertheless, the
band was solid and their playing was enjoyable.
I’ve always thought that “Pictures of Home” from
their 1972 “Machine Head” album was a fine song,
and I could never understand why it wasn’t a staple
tune in their live shows. The version I watched here
was preceded by an unrelated orchestral introduction,
which was probably the best orchestral writing in the
entire two-hour concert. I wonder who did the writing
and arranging for it? The performance of the actual
song was quite enjoyable, although the orchestral
strings were somewhat superfluous and swamped
by the sound of the band.

Of course, “Smoke on the Water” was a crowd-pleasing
encore, and it was again interesting to observe the
onstage merging of the orchestral players and backup
vocalists with the band’s performance.

As a “crossover” concert, this one succeeded better
than other Rock band/Orchestral outings that I’ve seen,
and the recorded sound was pretty good, if not great.
Aside from Ian Gillan’s contribution, this performance
of the “Concerto” was an improvement in many
respects over the 1969 performance, but it definitely
could not replace it.

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