Jon Lord must have been well-pleased with this Lichfield Festival event, his first British concert covering his solo career.
Lord was an early pioneer in exploring where classical music and progressive rock overlapped and it’s 40 years now since his Concerto for Group and Orchestra, a collaboration with Malcolm Arnold, was written.
After leaving Deep Purple in 2002, he returned to his classical roots and enjoyed major success with his large-scale piece for soloists and orchestra, the Durham Concerto. Unlike the often ramshackle air that surrounds many rock concerts, this was a meticulously thought-out and well-prepared chamber performance. Lord directed from the keyboard and was joined by a youthful band, including the excellent Badke String Quartet, whose subtle and commanding playing gave enormous pleasure throughout.
The items from his 1970s album Sarabande worked well in this format, structured to allow Lord some room for keyboard improvisation with well-calculated dynamics. The slower, more contemplative, items were more of a surprise, inhabiting a very English tradition of Howells or Vaughan Williams in their sensitive imagination and instrumental skill.
The moving song Pictured Within, written in memory of his parents, was a highlight with an outstanding vocal performance from Steve Balsamo. Later, Lord touched on his rock past by including two Deep Purple songs. In Child in Time Balsamo was transformed from plaintive balladeer into rock hero and I was irresistibly reminded of Jack Black’s exuberant performance in School of Rock – but only because Lord was one of the inventors of the style which was being guyed in the film.
The unassuming Lord looked pleased with his warm and well-deserved reception as wolf whistles, cheers and a standing ovation made the audience’s enjoyment plain.