Procol Harum

the Pale

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Bach rock thrills Stratford audience

Lenore Crawford • London Free Press • 7 July 1969

Sunday in Stratford could be called Procol Harum or The Day They Switched on Handel.

True, Johann Sebastian Bach had his moments of glory when the Stratford Festival Orchestra under Lawrence Smith played ouverture [sic] from the Suite in D Major, number four, and those virtuosi – violinist Charles Libove and oboist Ray Still – performed his Concerto in C minor with the orchestra.

They were good enough reasons for the first half of the concert's title, 'Bach'.

The second half of the title, ‘Rock’, was something else again – a big ‘put-on’ that really worked.

By all odds, the top favourite was the Hallelujah Chorusfrom the Messiah. And get this, the title of the piece was In Held ’Twas in I, which had Keith Reid as lyricist and Gary Brooker as composer, with the rest of the English group the Procol Harum – Matthew Fisher, Robin Trower, David Knights and Barrie Wilson – the Festival orchestra and chorus of thirty, all conducted by Smith.

The piece was described in the programme as 'an eighteen-minute mind-bending hallucination’ and so it was. It also was a tear-duct-bending operation, whether the listener was 14, 40, or 74.

At the conclusion, the audience rose with spontaneity that came from sheer admiration of performance and Brooker's original rock arrangement rather than from the tradition of standing after any performance of the Handel chorus.

Brooker, in appreciation of chorus, orchestra and conductor, said, ‘they were so wonderful they blew my mind.’

That's what the whole performance did for me too – including Brooker's own sensitive, beautifully toned piano work; the gorgeous organ sound and the skilful percussion by his colleagues.

The composition as a whole had a great deal more than the Hallelujah Chorus – a bit of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, for one thing. All through it there were clever modulation, change of tempo and the electrification of harpsichord and organ adding greatly to the grandeur and the variety of texture.

The organ, for example, sounded like a huge pipe organ and the harpsichord sounded clear and full-toned. This was in contrast to the un-electrified harpsichord in the Bach concerto, obscured completely by the other, stronger instruments.

Integration of the forces was magical, for which conductor Smith surely deserves the credit. The only flaw, and unfortunately a very serious one, was that amplification of speaking-singing of lyrics by Brooker, Fisher and Reid (the poetry written by Reid) was inadequate.

They couldn't be heard even by people sitting dead centre. And the poetry was worth hearing, as I learned by attending a rehearsal.

A Salty Dog fared better in this way. Lyrics by Reid, sung by Brooker while he played a concert grand, 'the longest piano I've ever seen,’ was accompanied here and there by orchestral strings and drums. It was poignant and sweet.

The Procol Harum came onstage alone for the final [sic] of the three-part programme. The audience waited a half-hour because switching on instruments and other preparatories took that long.

The group faced a disgruntled lot of listeners and within one minute bent their minds and hearts with a powerful Repent Walpurgis, then A Whiter Shade of Pale, Stoke Poges and Skip Softly My Moonbeams.

The audience was extremely [illegible] in age and musical [illegible]. So it was interesting to [illegible] everyone sitting silently throughout every [illegible] into [illegible] the end.

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