Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Rock Star Composes Some Spectacular Serious Music

Jon LORD (b. 1941)

Boom of the Tingling Strings (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra) (2002) [36:36]
Disguises, for string orchestra (2006) [35:38]

Nelson Goerner (piano)
Odense Symfoniorkester
Paul Mann

Recorded 11-15 December 2006 in the Carl Nielsen Hall, Odense.

EMI 3 90528 2 [72:14]

Once known as a bulwark of the staid and conservative classical music tradition, EMI Classics have moved out of their long-held mold in recent years to not only assemble one of the world’s most impressive stables of young artists, but into some adventuresome and fascinating repertoire choices. This disc of works by Jon Lord, known to many a rock fan as the co-founder of Deep Purple, is cause for rejoicing.

In an era when most composers can only manage to assemble collections of sound effects, it is refreshing indeed to hear music that is in many ways all things to all people. Jon Lord is obviously versed in his native land’s traditions, as there are ample slices of the serenely melodic English Pastoral School in these two works. And yet, he manages to intersperse elements of jazz, a goodly sprinkling of dissonance, and some jarring rhythmic gestures into two works that will hopefully become regular guests on the world’s concert stages. To his eternal credit, he avoids the episodic style of writing that is to these ears, the downfall of many a young composer’s work.

The piano concerto, based on a poem by D. H. Lawrence is highly programmatic. Lord makes every attempt to reflect the words of the 1918 poem Piano in his music. Thus he creates moments of tranquil beauty in which the orchestra is every bit as much the soloist as the pianist. Then there are more sonorous passages that are reminiscent of the busy and thundering textures of Rachmaninov. And, not to let go of his roots as a blues man, there are rollicking displays of technical prowess that make heavy demands on the soloist, and startle the listener out of a reverie or two. All of these devices live under a structural framework that is easy to follow, and belies the composer’s long experience as a popular song writer. There is much in this music to grab and hold onto.

Soloist and orchestra team up nicely here and it is especially gratifying to hear them stay out of each other’s way when the score calls for such behavior. Nelson Goerner knows how to turn an elegant phrase, and the pearly beauty he creates in his softer playing is most becoming. No slouch when it comes to hammering out a tune, he can pour on the sound when he needs to. The most impressive facet of his playing is his ability to keep all things in proportion and pull off a performance that leaves the listener anxious for what he’ll hear next.

Also on the program is the colorful Disguises; portraits in sound of some of the composer’s close friends, the entire work being dedicated to the late lamented Sir Malcolm Arnold. The work is a kaleidoscope of contrasts, each movement reflecting vividly the distinct personality of the person being portrayed. Stylistically the music runs in a steady progression from Vaughan Williams to Britten and even to Shostakovich, but in general tone, it is always lush and romantic. It is obvious that this rock star knows his classical literature, and has managed to assimilate his vast reference pool into a fresh and original voice of his own.

Disguises is given a first rate performance by the Odense orchestra, a band which I had heretofore not heard. They are a welcome addition to any listener’s options! How splendid it is to hear such well crafted music for a change. One can hope that EMI will take it upon themselves to give us more of Mr. Lord’s works in the very near future.

No comments: