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Jon LORD (b. 1941)
Durham Concerto (2007) [56:27]
Matthew Barley (cello)
Jon Lord (Hammond organ)
Ruth Palmer (violin)
Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian Pipes)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Mischa Damev
rec. Liverpool, July 2007.
AVIE AV2145 [56.27]

Sound Samples
The Cathedral at Dawn
Durham Awakes
The Road from Lindisfarne
From Prebends Bridge
Rags and Galas
Durham Nocturne

The composer Jon Lord rose to fame in the 1970s as a member of Deep Purple. Celebrity collaborations between the group and Malcolm Arnold included Concerto for Group and Orchestra written and scored by John Lord and conducted by Malcolm Arnold.. Lord has over the intervening years increasingly extended his reputation into the classical field. The Durham Concerto is the latest and most ambitious example to date. In this he is not alone, witness the various classical pieces by Paul McCartney - the latest being Ecce Cor Meum and the orchestral work Seven by Tony Banks of Genesis – a work recorded on Naxos. All are individual in their own way but a sign that some musicians with a rock-popular reputation felt the siren call of classical eternity even if we ignore the blurring of ‘boundaries’ represented by the work of Frank Zappa, Soft Machine and Tangerine Dream.

At the most meagre level this is a beautifully packaged delightful musical souvenir of Durham University's 175th anniversary in 2007. The concept might remind you of John Scott’s Colchester Symphony but this is in fact a seriously-intentioned extended orchestral suite of six movements grouped in pairs.

At the start long-held Tallis-like string chords speak out of the mists of antiquity. This is music that takes a slow-shifting shading from Hovhaness. The glistening murmur forms a backdrop to meditative solos from the wind instruments. Then at 3.10 comes Ruth Palmer's Lark-like violin solo speaking as a fragile human voice against the downward remorseless tread of time. Given the accent of this first movement it is some surprise that Lord was not among those pop-contemporary world musicians interviewed for Tony Palmer’s recent RVW film-biography. As this movement, entitled Cathedral at Dawn, rises to its peak it is the notable ecstasy of Vaughan Williams that is most closely echoed.

The composer's Hammond organ is featured in four of the six movements. It ushers in the second (Durham Awakes) with its atmospheric solo for Northumbrian Pipes. The pipes are played by that doyenne of the instrument Kathryn Tickell. Matthew Barley's solo cello acts as orator and encourager in this Copland-inflected music but ancient and melancholically serene voices from the Pipes – unable to escape celtic connections - and the solo violin are there too. The Hammond also intercedes at several points. This movement proves a fine example of the successful interweave of pipes, cello and violin.

Those first two movements form Part 1: Morning. Then comes Afternoon in the shape of another two movements. The first reflects the spiritual journey of St Cuthbert and the physical journey of his mortal remains to interment in the Cathedral. It communicates as a slow revelatory sunset much in the same atmosphere as the Dawn. This is followed by the equally introspective, cello-led From Prebends Bridge. Here the composer had in mind the view from the Bridge and the innumerable people who have stood and taken in that view down a thousand years.

The cello solo once or twice seems rather meandering before it gathers itself for a more direct and emotionally hard-hitting address. The music here reminded me of the Elgar concerto, Rubbra's Soliloquy and Holst's Invocation. Then comes a much needed rowdy movement in which students on a rag day and a miners gala meet head on. The brassy whoops here reminded me of Arnold. Again Lord's Hammond is to the fore, lending dynamism to its usual watery discourse - it's the nature of the instrument. There's plenty of forward pulse here and the orchestra have fun with the pizzicato writing. The Arnold accent appears strongly at 4:12 onwards with something of the Commonwealth Christmas Overture to be heard as well as a nicely burred and brassy Gaudeamus Igitur at 6:21. History takes hold again at the end of the movement and those sustained string chords reassert the long view. The Pipes invoke the sorrowing melancholy of heritage morphing without break into the long meditative finale: Durham Nocturne.

I hope we will hear more of Lord's classical compositions including the suite for strings, Disguises (2004) and the piano concerto Boom of the Tingling Strings (2003). Both are due out from EMI later in 2008. What else remains to be recorded?

The concept of the present piece and the use of an 'ethnic' instrument recall, as an idea, Shaun Davey's works – especially The Relief of Derry Symphony and The Brendan Voyage.

The playing throughout the Durham Concerto is sensitive and glowing with much accomplished and thoughtful work for the solo instruments. The recording produces an almost tangible effect without embracing an in-your-face pop balance.

Here is an extended work of continuity across six substantial movements. The predominant meditative character will instantly mesh with those who love John Barry’s Beyondness of Things, Tavener and Vaughan Williams.

Rob Barnett

Ruth Palmer
Matthew Barley
Kathryn Tickell
Photo: Jochen Braun
Photo: Alexandra Wolkowicz
Photo: Graham Oliver


Detailed Tracklisting
Part 1: Morning
1. The Cathedral at Dawn (solo violin, solo cello, Hammond organ)
2. Durham Awakes (solo violin, solo cello, Hammond organ, Northumbrian pipes)
Part 2: Afternoon
3. The Road from Lindisfarne (solo violin, solo cello, Northumbrian pipes)
4. From Prebends Bridge (solo cello)
Part 3: Evening
5. Rags & Galas (solo violin, solo cello, Hammond organ)
6. Durham Nocturne (solo violin, solo cello, Hammond organ, Northumbrian pipes)

Notes from publicity material:-
The magnificent Norman cathedral on the rock, part of the World Heritage site shared by Durham University and Durham Cathedral, was the setting for the world premiere of Jon Lord’s Durham Concerto commissioned by the University to commemorate its 175th anniversary. The 1,000 strong audience rose spontaneously to its feet as the final climax reflected Sir Walter Scott’s vision, which is engraved on Prebends Bridge: "Grey Towers of Durham/ Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles/ Half church of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot". The work emotionally evokes the sense of history, scholarship, place and community evident in Durham - an unbroken line from St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede, Europe’s leading scholar of the 7th and 8th centuries, to the modern day university. Jon Lord, known to all for Smoke On The Water and as the driving force behind Deep Purple, was classically trained and has returned to his roots.

Durham Concerto cements Lord’s position as a leading contemporary composer. Each of the six movements in this hour-long piece reflects a different aspect of a day in Durham. The serene "The Cathedral at Dawn" has undertones of Vaughan Williams in its expansiveness, while "Rags and Galas" celebrates town and gown, using Bernsteinian rhythms and interruptions of "Gaudeamus Igitur." Northumbrian pipes, played by its world’s leading exponent, Kathryn Tickell, give a true sense of North-East wilderness and melancholy to "The Road From Lindisfarne," reflecting the pilgrimage by the Cuthbert Community, carrying St Cuthbert’s body and the Lindisfarne gospels, one of the world’s great treasures, to found Durham Cathedral in the 11th century. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Mischa Damev perform the work along with an array of world class soloists in this concerto for violin, cello, Northumbrian pipes and organ: Ruth Palmer (violin) who won the Young British Performer award at the 2007 Classical Brit Awards, Matthew Barley (cello) who featured in BBC2 TV’s "Classical Star" series, leading folk musician Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian Pipes) and of course, Jon Lord on his original Hammond organ, one of the very few occasions that such an evocative instrument has been used in an orchestral setting. Jon Lord’s "Durham Concerto" is a contemporary classic.

Jon Lord writes:
The general inspiration for the music was an idea of Durham, garnered from two or three short visits and a reading of a short history, so a sort of ‘Durham of the mind,’ a stylised Durham; My Durham, if you will, imagined into music. However the defining inspiration for the piece was the cathedral. My first visit to Durham in 2001 saw me standing open mouthed on Palace Green and then in silent awe as I walked into that formidable magnificence inside. Most of the themes came from the days immediately following my first experience of this extraordinary, imposing building. The feeling that the very stones and pillars themselves are imbued with centuries of prayer, with people’s joy, grief, despair, even anger, gratitude and hope. As the tunes and chords and sounds started to organise themselves in my mind and on manuscript paper, I realised that I was writing a sort of ‘Day in the life of Durham’ and that the Cathedral would be its beginning, would be in its middle and would be at its ending.


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