Jon Lord, founder and organist of the English rock band Deep Purple, calls his piece on this Avie disc the Durham Concerto, and one can only agree with the aptness of the title. Written for the 175th anniversary of the founding of Durham University and composed to invoke the town, the university, and the cathedral, the work is clearly rooted in the earth of northern England. And with its complement of four soloists -- cellist Matthew Barley, violinist Ruth Palmer, Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell, and Lord himself on Hammond organ. It is clearly a concerto, albeit it more of a concerto grosso in practice than a concerto proper since the main argument is carried on mostly by the orchestra, in this case, the Royal Philharmonic under conductor Mischa Damev.
How well the Durham Concerto works is up to the listener to decide. For some, the romantic themes, sumptuous colors, atmospheric touches, and resounding climaxes of Lord's piece will be sometimes thrilling, often touching, and always entertaining. The jaunty violin march in Durham Awakes and the big-hearted theme for full orchestra in Durham Nocturne will be wholly convincing to them. For others, however, memories of rock bands, film scores, and especially the pastoral music of Ralph Vaughan Williams will crowd out Lord's originality. The waves of sound that gradually illuminate The Cathedral at Dawn will be too similar to Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia for them, and Rags and Galas' rambunctious clash of classical and rock music will be too harsh.
One thing is certain: the conductor, soloists and orchestra are doing their best to make the Durham Concerto succeed. Damev is firmly in control of both his forces and Lord's score, guiding the former through the latter's six movements with a skillful and sympathetic hand. The soloists are all impressive, particularly Tickell, whose pipes have some of the work's most memorable melodies. While not for everyone, those who approach Lord's Durham Concerto with open ears and an open mind may find the piece is well worth hearing. Recorded at Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, Avie's digital sound is big, detailed, and colorful if a bit congested at some of the biggest climaxes.