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Beatles for Harp - transcribed for harp by Jim Palmer
John LENNON (1940–1980)/Paul McCARTNEY (b. 1942)
Got To Get You Into My Life; It’s Only Love; Blackbird;
George HARRISON
(1943–2001)
I Want To Tell You;
John LENNON/ Paul McCARTNEY
For No One;
George HARRISON
I Need You;
John LENNON/ Paul McCARTNEY
Here, There, and Everywhere;
George HARRISON

Here Comes The Sun;
John LENNON/ Paul McCARTNEY
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away; Hello, Goodbye; Girl; Do You Want To Know a Secret?; All You Need Is Love; Strawberry Fields Forever; You Won’t See Me
Jim Palmer (harp)
rec. August 27-28, 2004, Reel Recording, Maryville, Missouri
CENTAUR CRC 2728 [48:06]

 



When the four from Liverpool hit the headlines in the mid-1960s under their collective name The Beatles I was already well past 20 and really not very interested in pop and rock. After some years as a jazz fan I had become hooked on classical music and spent most of my time trying to catch up with all the names and works I had missed during my youth. The Beatles were difficult to avoid, however. I soon noticed that there were melodic finesse and innovative harmonies in most of what they did and these made them stick out from their contemporaries. Pretty soon they also expanded the musical frame, introducing a string quartet, baroque elements and Indian influences. They created a whole new world of their own, making them a kind of cross-over band, even, in present-day terms, a world music group.

The Beatles in a way brought rock from obscure basement clubs to established concert stages. Jim Palmer has brought their music into the parlour in what could be described as a class journey of unprecedented dimension. Their music has constantly been adapted and performed by a variety of constellations. I remember the French arranger and conductor Paul Mauriat in the 1960s: all lush textures with strings and harpsichord. More recently Peter Breiner has performed the music in 18th century disguise, “Beatles go Baroque”, not wholly convincing to be honest but fun anyway. Closer to Jim Palmer’s approach, Göran Söllscher recorded a Beatles disc for DG on the classical guitar.

It goes without saying that making a satisfying album of any music transferred to another medium calls for discriminating choice. Jim Palmer touches on this subject in the short liner-notes with this issue. Ballads sit more readily on the harp and the greater part of the disc consists of slow or mid-tempo pieces. There are also faster and rhythmically more alert things. I am impressed by his ability to make the music “swing” – or rather “rock”. Hello, Goodbye (track 10) is so rhythmically alive, and still sophisticated. George Harrison’s Here comes the sun (track 8) is another highlight. The chamber proportions of the music inevitably lessen the impact of the music, but one has to accept it for what it is. A string quartet is not a symphony orchestra and can never be expected to produce the punch and the colour of the large ensemble. Hopefully there are gains as well – one of them being greater clarity and translucency. This treatment transforms the character of the music - performed on the harp Girl (track 11) could just as well have been written by, say, Satie.

I also think it was wise of Jim Palmer to avoid the most hackneyed songs and concentrate on music that every listener already knows inside-out in the original versions. I was never a very avid collector of The Beatles but at least I purchased three LPs of the “Greatest Hits” type and of those 44 titles only three are to be found on this disc. Of these All you need is love with its Marseillaise intro is surprisingly well suited to the harp. Maybe the most colourful and impressionistically atmospheric track is Strawberry Fields forever.

In his transcriptions Palmer has paid attention to detail in the original arrangements. The end-result is much more than a conventional run-through by a professional arranger, making whatever material he chooses instantly recognisable as “his”.

Jim Palmer’s playing is excellently suited to the material and I wouldn’t be surprised if other harpists follow suit. The sound is immediate and spacious, maybe a little too plushy, with the arpeggios wallowing out the speakers as they would in an ocean waves sequence in the movies. I think I would have liked somewhat drier acoustics to produce a more sharply-etched sound-picture – but I am not sure. In Here comes the sun the sound is leaner without any change in acoustics and in the end it is more a matter of taste than objective criticism.

I have already played the disc several times for sheer pleasure and each time I have discovered new interesting details. Even when I wanted it for simple background music I couldn’t help listening.

Beatles fans should try this disc for a quite new experience and even though the music is scaled down it is in no way diluted. Non-Beatles fans should also try it – and maybe find aspects in the music they haven’t observed before. And who knows, John and George may be playing the harp with the angels today, why not in Jim Palmer’s transcriptions?

Göran Forsling

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