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Beatles Go Baroque
Peter Breiner and His Chamber Orchestra
Our response to music may all too often be conditioned by a nostalgic mood—or in this particular case by a mode. Whether one is a fan or not, there is an undeniably modal (most frequently minor key) simplicity and a plaintive, distinctly old-fashioned clarity about Lennon and McCartney’s music. Denounced by the critics including, not least, on occasions, the sardonic Lennon himself as “muzak”, it remains surprisingly resilient to the kind of clinical embellishment that a baroque treatment entails. And whereas home truths about the heroes of one’s youth may sound iconoclastic, it will quickly be admitted that these well-known tunes suffer not at all from being rescheduled à la Bach or à la Vivaldi. Re-arrayed in classical garb they are made to sound even more nostalgic, almost improved by some “time-honoured” process of alchemy. As with Mozart, however unlikely the disguise, they emerge indestructible; like a fresh hearing of some neglected Delius these favourite songs, shorn of their words, still have the power to transport us “over the hills and far away”.
Beatles Go Baroque is an anachronistic Magical Mystery Tour through the well-thumbed pages of the Lennon and McCartney songbook. Concerto Grosso No 1, in the style of Georg Frideric Handel, finds its predictable, if aptly chosen Overture (Track 1) in She Loves You. Recorded by the Fab Four in July 1963, the A side of their fourth single soon became a proud anthem of Swingin’ 60s pop-art and the decidedly nonbelligerent war-cry of a generation given over to flower-power spontaneity, psychedelia, acid and yeah yeah music. The alternation of various individual instruments in concert with full ensemble justifies the subtitles of this and the other Concerti Grossi.
A backwards-in-time revamp of the Loveable Mopheads’ last Parlophone single (recorded 3 and 6 February 1968), Lady Madonna (Track 2) continues in the same concertante vein, followed immediately by the contrasting Fool on the Hill (Track 3), a cantabile threnody for strings introducing solo cello notably slower in pace than its original which, along with the jaunty, autobiographical Penny Lane (Track 5) first appeared in the United States in 1967 (Great Britain in 1976) on the Magical Mystery Tour double-EP. Track 4, Honey Pie (from the Beatles double-album of November 1968) also begins allegro concertante, with first then second violin prominently featured.
Lead violin is even more effectively employed in Concerto Grosso No 2, in the style of Antonio Vivaldi in which violins predominate. Solo violin is used to state the themes of Girl (Track 7—a much admired number from Rubber Soul, issued in the UK December 1965 and in the USA in 1987) and I Love Her (Track 8)—a kind of barcarolle, this brings a moment of tender respite from the essentially tough theme of A Hard Day’s Night (July 1964) whose revised title song becomes the overture (Track 6). Obliquely inspired by John’s two quasi autobiographies In His Own Write and Spaniard In The Works—and with lyric credit shared with Paul—Paperback Writer (Track 9) is a classic page of both the single and LP Past Masters 2 (March 1968). Reflecting Lennon’s tongue-in-cheek dismissal of his own talent for words, its facetiousness is magnified by the superimposed baroque rhythms. The Concerto ends with Help (Track 10—the Beatles’ August 1965 LP album title).
Written in the traditional style of contrasting combinations of instruments in each movement, the world’s most famous Concerti Grossi are Nos 2, 4 and 5 of the Brandenburg Concertos (1721) by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Beatles Concerto Grosso No 3 follows a similar pattern, with solo flute omnipresent throughout and the dignified ancient dance rhythms customarily found in classical suites. With its martial pace and slow fugal tutti for string ensemble The Long and Winding Road (1970; Track 11) creates an appositely momentous Overture, while Eight Days a Week (Track 12—from Beatles For Sale, December 1964), here marked Rondo creates a fittingly lighthearted contrast to the poignant She’s Leaving Home (Track 13—from Sgt Pepper, June 1967, here styled as a Sarabande, an old Spanish dance). The Concerto concluded with We Can Work it Out (Track 14—from Past Masters 2, March 1968, here played in Bourrée, or gavotte time), Hey Jude (Track 15, now an air and variations for flute in polonaise time, but originally a May 1979 album-title earlier included on Beatles Past Masters 2) and Yellow Submarine (the playful, psychedelic jaunt from Revolver (August 1966)—styled Badinerie).
If conceived by the arranger with any particular old master in mind, Concerto Grosso No 4 is probably in the style of Arcangelo Corelli. As with Concerto No 1 the cello predominates as a solo vehicle around which, by turns, the other instruments radiate. From the Overture Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road 1969—the only George Harrison creation included herein) the alternation of a few instruments with complete ensemble sets the pattern to be followed through Michelle (Rubber Soul, December 1965, this begins as it ends a resolute, fugal tutti for strings), Goodnight (originally the closing number from the 2 LP The Beatles November 1968, it is made most effective by its pensive solo passage for violin) until with Carry That Weight (1969) we return to Abbey Road—“where it all began”.
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BEATLES GO BAROQUE