It may come off pass? to say the late Jon Lord was fond of classical music. As we've come to learn over the years through Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen's Mozart, Bach and Beethoven translations into heavy metal form, the two styles have exhibited a propensity for marriage of the finest capacity. Symphonic metal has evolved into a commodity after METALLICA's "S&M" mainstreamed the genres under one banner. These days, if you don't have a live album with orchestra to your credit, your credit is squat. Of course, EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER and YES were mixing titanic prog and hard rock along with orchestral maneuvers ages ago and the MOODY BLUES touched upon the ethos long before them.
As history shows, even DEEP PURPLE was dabbling in classical overtures within a rock foundation as far back as 1969, when Jon Lord composed an exhaustive ode to William Holst, Jean Sibelius and Maurice Ravel. Lord's "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" was first performed by DEEP PURPLE and a live symphony on September 24, 1969 at the Royal Albert Hall, then again in 1970 at the Hollywood Rose Bowl. If you've seen the directions Ritchie Blackmore has taken in his music outside of PURPLE, it should be no surprise to imagine him ripping out an arpeggio on the heels of a thundering allegro movement. The combination is a blaring flash of electric-spliced presto the likes neither style of music had then seen possible.
While portions of Lord's original composition have been forever lost over time, an effort to restore his daring neoclassical project was picked up by Dutch revivalist Marco de Goeij and overseen by Lord himself all the way up to his untimely passing last year. Lord's work was restructured and performed by the Royal Liverpool Harmonic Orchestra with Paul Mann conducting, and supplemented by guest vocals from Bruce Dickinson, Kasia Laska and Steve Balsamo. If you find the MOODY BLUES' post-"Peppers" rock orchestra "Days of Future Passed" from 1967 transcendental, then Jon Lord's "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" goes three steps further.
Every bit as much a culture clash as its psychedelic-kissed predecessor, Lord's "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" is more in the traditional vein of classical music. The key here is that Lord writes his rock operatic bits as sneak-attack interruptions between full-fledged symphonic movements. It's easy to be fooled into thinking you've tripped upon strict gusting sweeps of strings, brass, woodwind and guttural percussion. That is, until Lord sneaks in pockets of methodic organ segments, largely fugue in nature, and then blaring punches of hard rock and even blues modes. Employing a different guitarist for each the three segments to his concerto (Darin Vasilev, Joe Bonamassa and Steve Morse, respectively), the overpowering nature of these intercuts create an introspective and grandiose overview of songwriting so complex even the MOODYS have to consider themselves fortunate their album punched through the mainstream decades before anyone ever caught wind of Lord's devastating symposium.
The "Moderato-Allegro" section switches from serene and cautious to bombastic and even playful as nods to Holst's "The Planets" are scattered all about. Once the electric portion interjects itself, the orchestra itself all but freezes in its tracks and (in purposeful translation) delays its pickup once again. All as Lord intended, but for sure his players sell the illusion of tonal decimation and forced quietude. The same method is employed on a grander scale in the "Andante" section, which will remind in spots of Basil Poledouris' future film score of the 1982 version of "Conan the Barbarian". By the time his booming blues section thrusts itself amidst the strings, the "Andante" section surrenders to a morose and sullen capture that slithers into the far more up-tempo "Vivace-Presto" segment.
Once again hailing "The Planets" in the opening stanzas filled with heady idiophone and marching bravado, Lord allows for much more PURPLE-esque rock measures to emphasize his muse's valiance and heroics. Brett Morgan hammers down a clamoring rock drum solo in the midst of this gallantry, which would likely frighten classical purists. Rockers will delight in it, especially since Lord whirls echoing bass drums into his rock orchestra typhoon. To call the "Vivace-Presto" section breathtaking isn't doing Jon Lord proper justice. Treading into chaotic scherzo territory, it shatters the senses and brings to light possibilities even the most popular symphonic metal bands today haven't touched upon, not even in their allegro-spun dreams.
While it's tragic Jon Lord was unable to hear this finished product of his masterwork, the rest of us can marvel in its supremacy. "Concerto for Group and Orchestra" will likely become an underground phenomenon in the rock sector, but if there's any fair justice, the classic music moguls will get wind of it and elevate Jon Lord's composition to the regaled stature it deserves.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.