Deep Purple released Concerto For Group And Orchestra in 1969 and it remains the most unusual album in its long history. Ian Gillan and Roger Glover had just replaced original members Rod Evans and Nick Simper, so Jon Lord and Gillan came up with the idea of recording with an orchestra.
The duo wrote a concerto in three movements and recorded it with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Arnold, at Royal Albert Hall on September 24, 1969. The album had limited commercial success in the United States but was a hit in their home country of Great Britain.
This is one release where I advocate tracking down the 2002 two-CD edition. The sound on the original vinyl release was poor and not much better on the first CD reissue of the album. The 2002 CD release has a significantly cleaned up sound. In addition, more music was presented, which included a set by Deep Purple that was not included on the original release.
The actual concert began with a performance by Malcolm Arnold and the orchestra of his own, “Symphony Number 6,” in three movements. The music is available but is oddly out of place within the context of the album.
The 2002 CD release began with a three-song set by Deep Purple which stretched out to about 30 minutes. This was the first recording of the famous Mark II Deep Purple line-up. It is interesting to hear the band perform the pre-Mark II hit “Hush,” as it was a sound the band would quickly leave behind in the years ahead. Ritchie Blackmore was on fire for the 13-minute instrumental version of “Wring That Neck,” and if you are a fan of his style then this track is an essential listening experience. The classic Deep Purple track, “Child In Time,” was unreleased at the time but it served as a vehicle for Gillan’s amazing vocal range, which was at the height of its power back then.
The actual Concerto For Group And Orchestra was really the Jon Lord show. While Gillian did write some lyrics, Lord was responsible for the music, which was the concert’s centerpiece. The band and orchestra tended to trade the spotlight more than they actually played together in a traditional sense. While both seem to jam a little, in reality they do so within the structure of the music. Blackmore’s solo within the first movement and Paice’s thunderous drum solo during the third movement are highlights. The second movement was the least successful as it was more calm and peaceful as it veered toward a Moody Blues sound.
Concerto For Group And Orchestra was a unique stop for Deep Purple. It remains an album of “What ifs” for the band, as it would have been interesting if it had explored this direction a little more.
Whether this release is appreciated or not depends on how open one is to a very different Deep Purple experience.