This is a genuine oddity in the career output of Andrew Lloyd Webber, growing out of a personal/familial vignette. The piece, a set of variations on Niccolo Paganini's "Caprice No. 24" (which had previously inspired adaptations by Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Sergei Rachmaninov, and Boris Blacher, among others), came about because Andrew Lloyd Webber lost a bet with his cellist brother Julian Lloyd Webber, and was obliged to compose a work for cello and rock band for him, which was premiered in August of 1977 at a music festival, and subsequently recorded and released on an LP (later transferred to CD) by MCA. At the time, progressive rock was still hanging on to some semblance of commercial viability, and in fairness, MCA had made a fortune off of Lloyd Webber's work on Jesus Christ Superstar, etc. The work was later incorporated into Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, and mid-'80s theater work, and later appeared in a recording on Philips, featuring a new orchestration and the participation of Julian Lloyd Webber with the London Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel. This recording, featuring what amounts to virtually an all-star contingent of players -- including Rod Argent, Herbie Flowers (whose playing is outstanding throughout), Jon Hiseman, and Gary Moore -- is reminiscent of other rock-classical hybrids of the period, a slightly awkward fit highlighted by charming and delightful moments, along with some bracing moments for the band. As the scoring is rather lean (cello by the Lloyd Webber sibling and a band, complete with synthesizer and other electronic keyboards), it's a bit less bombastic than most prog rock of the period and there's also more of a sense of humor in evidence, especially in the quotations hidden within the scoring. The rock players get their moments, especially on "Variation 7" (which is Moore's great showcase), and while it's a little more involved than the typical Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer recording of the era, there was something there for the high school or college kid just looking for music to get stoned to. Ultimately, as music, it's a minor part of the Andrew Lloyd Webber catalog (though it did, as pointed out, work its way into more substantial pieces and settings), but it's a lot of fun and charmingly unpretentious.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder
|Variations on a Theme of Paganini, for cello & orchestra|