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The Fountain Of Useless Knowledge

Registered: 09-2003
Posts: 5670
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The Pink Floyd Chamber Suite (review)

"The essential music of Pink Floyd arranged for grand piano, flute, and string quartet by Iain Jennings." (publicity blurb)

1st Movement - Invention (14:44)
(Astronomy Domine - Arnold Layne - See Emily Play - Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun – Saucerful of Secrets – Grantchester Meadows – Fat Old Sun – Atom Heart Mother)

2nd Movement – Harmony (15:03)
(Echoes – Breathe – Great Gig in the Sky – Us and Them – Eclipse – Shine on you Crazy Diamond)

3rd Movement – Division (16:32)
(Sheep – Pigs on the Wing – In the Flesh – Another Brick in the Wall – Comfortably Numb – The Fletcher Memorial Home – The Final Cut)

4th Movement – Reconstruction (11:24)
(The Dogs of War – On the Turing Away – Cluster One)

I’ll admit a bias: any music where 50% of the instruments are violins and flutes is automatically going to be attractive to me. And I’ve got a lot of respect for Iain Jennings, so I had to give this a try.

Sure, I was sceptical. I usually find that orchestras can’t play rock music. They just don’t – to put it bluntly – rock. But, overall, I’ve got to say this works pretty well.

Rather than playing a selection of straight songs, Jennings takes excepts or motifs from several and runs them together into longer movements. He also plays with passing the leads around the various instruments: piano on Echoes, Cello on Comfortably Numb, Flute on Eclipse, and so on, to create a different tone for each piece. Sometimes the strings take the vocal line or melody while the piano plays rhythm, sometimes they swap so the piano takes the melody. The whole thing has been well thought out, though it has to be said that not all of it works.

The first movement is the weakest. First, it’s the most “busy” movement. Condensing nine songs into less than 15 minutes means that you’re just getting used to one tune when it’s replaced by the next. And some of the transitions between songs are a bit jarring. Then there’s the problem that some of the tunes are just too experimental. The instruments sound uncomfortable, discordant even, on tunes like Astronomy Domine. The movement improves towards the end, with the post-Barrett material working much better (Grantchester Meadows and Fat Old Sun are beautiful). I’m a big fan of Barrett’s work but here it just doesn’t translate well. Whether that’s Barrett’s fault or Jennings’, I couldn’t say.

The second movement is something completely different and virtually worth the price of the disk by itself. From the opening piano on Echoes, building into a big violin-led chorus, I was completely lost in the music. It’s a wonderful interpretation of all six tunes from this period. But, if you think about it, how could it fail? These songs were almost designed for this: full of intricate harmonies and sweeping guitar leads.

The third movement is a bit of a mixed bag. The problem here is that more of these tunes are supposed to rock, and somehow that never really works when you don’t have drums. Still, the arrangements are inventive, with rhythmic piano and aggressive strings. It’s a good movement, but a complete contrast to the sublime second movement.

I don’t know why Jennings limited the fourth movement to only three songs, but the approach gives each one time to develop nicely. Dogs of War has wonderfully menacing staccato strings and passes the melody back and forth between flute and piano. On the Turning Away has a beautiful, mournful cello lead that, honestly, I think is better than the instrumentation on the original. Cluster One provides a nice, mellow outro to the disk. The movement ties with the second for my favourite of the bunch.

So, it’s a mixed bag. It won’t be to everybody’s taste, but it’s a nice experiment and worth a listen if you want something a bit different. Looking back over this review, it sounds more critical than it should. In trying to describe the music for people that haven’t heard, it’s easy to dwell on “faults”. But taken as a whole, I’m very happy with the work and I think it’s something I’m going to play a lot.

"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet. "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet. "Rabbit has Brain."
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that's why he never understands anything."
4/9/2004, 11:32 Link to this post Send Email to David Meadows   Send PM to David Meadows


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