[Review] Deep Purple in Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall: Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969)

And now for something completely different… a classical rock concerto written by Jon Lord and performed with a symphony orchestra.

Kronomyth 4.0: Rhapsody in purple.

Deep Purple re-tooled the band for a heavier sound and tested the new lineup with a live concert in the Royal Albert Hall on September 24, 1969. Featuring a full orchestra. Playing a classical concerto that Jon Lord had written for the occasion. Concerto for Group and Orchestra might be the most unexpected left turn in the history of rock and roll. It is also, unquestionably, one of the earliest masterpieces in the history of progressive rock.

Deep Purple didn’t invent the idea of merging classical and rock music; for that, you’d need to look back to The Beatles, The Moody Blues, The Nice, etc. But they did elevate the idea into something no one else had tried: a synthesis of classical orchestra and rock group featuring music expressly written for the pair. I won’t tell you the mixture doesn’t have its lumps. I also don’t need to tell you how cool it is to hear Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar cut through the classical haze like an electrified demon.

Kudos go, first of all, to Malcolm Arnold and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for approaching this at face value; they do a splendid job with Lord’s score. Blackmore and the band also give it their all. Ian Paice’s drum solo in the third movement may be the most amazing thing he’s ever done, and that’s saying something. As for the new guys (Roger Glover, Ian Gillan), you have to sympathize with their symphonic quandary. Glover fits the new group’s ambitions like a glove, while Gillan steals a pair of flattering cameos that set the stage for Emerson, Lake and Palmer but not for the further adventures of Deep Purple.

The next album, Deep Purple In Rock, is Gillan’s proper debut, and it’ll blow you away. For the most part, Lord is the ghost in the machine; he certainly didn’t write an organ conerto. Maybe it was a concession to Blackmore, or a realization that people would rather hear an amazing guitar solo in the middle of a classical concerto than an organ solo.

Although the Concerto went largely unnoticed by American audiences, it’s a significant milestone in the history of rock, even if it isn’t one in the history of Deep Purple. The band’s next album effectively blew up the bridge leading back to Jon Lord’s progressive Xanadu, and in a year’s time the band would be remembered as the loudest rock and roll band in the world rather than one of the world’s first rock bands to perform a new classical work with an orchestra. In later years, re-releases of the Concerto restored the other live material from the September 24th concert: Arnold’s Symphony No. 6 and Purple’s live performances of “Wring That Neck,” “Hush” and a new work, “Child In Time.” I’d spring for the expanded set, since the Blackmore solos alone are worth the extra cost.

Original LP Version

A1. First Movement: Moderato – Allegro – Vivace
A2. Second Movement, Part One: Andante
B1. Second Movement, Part Two
B2. Third Movement

Expanded CD reissue track listing (1990)
1. Wring That Neck (Ritchie Blackmore/Jon Lord/Nicky Simper/Ian Paice)
2. Child In Time (Ritchie Blackmore/Ian Gillan/Roger Glover/Jon Lord/Ian Paice)
3. First Movement: Moderato – Allegro (Jon Lord)
4. Second Movement: Andante (Jon Lord, lyrics by Ian Gillan)
5. Third Movement: Vivace – Presto (Jon Lord)

Reissue featuring full original performance
Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No. 6, Op. 95
A1. 1st Movement: Energico
A2. 2nd Movement: Lento
A3. 3rd Movement: Con Fuoco
B1. Hush
B2. Wring That Neck
C1. Child In Time
D1. Concerto for Group and Orchestra: First Movement: Moderato-Allegro
E1. Concerto for Group and Orchestra: Second Movement: Andante
F1. Concerto for Group and Orchestra: Third Movement: Vivace-Presto
F2. Encore

The Players

Malcolm Arnold (conductor), Ritchie Blackmore (guitars), Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Jon Lord (keyboards), Ian Paice (drums), Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Produced by Edwards-Coletta; engineered by Dave Siddle and Martin Birch.

The Pictures

Cover design by Castle, Chappell & Partners Ltd. Photography by Daily Express and British Lion Films.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in December 1969 in the US (Tetragrammaton, T-131), in January 1970 in the UK and Australia (Harvest, SHVL 767), France (Harvest/Pathe Marconi, SHVL 767 and 2C 066-90.749 – one is probably a reissue) and Germany (Harvest, 1C 072-90 749) and in June 1970 in Japan (Warner Bros., BP-8962); reached #26 on the UK charts and #149 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1971 in Japan (Warner, P-8093W) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the UK and the US (Harvest, SHVL 767) {yellow-green with EMI} with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1976 in the US (Warner Bros., WS/CWX-1860) and Japan (Warner Bros., P-10331-W) {burbank label} with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1989 in the UK (Harvest, SHVL 767) {black label} with gatefold cover.
  5. Re-released on expanded compact disc in August 1990 in the UK (EMI, CZ 342) with 2 bonus tracks.
  6. Re-issued on compact disc on January 15, 1998 in Japan (Warner, WPCR-1563).
  7. Re-released on expanded DVD audio disc in 2003 in the US (Rhino, R9 73927) feat. original performance.
  8. Re-issued on compact disc in 2006 in Japan (Warner, WPCR-12252).
  9. Re-released on expanded 180g vinyl 3LP boxed set in 2014 in Europe (Parlophone, VSHVL 767) feat. original performance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *