Review: A French NightMay 13, 2011
Review by Monika Schwarz
The 1.200 capacity ‘Grande Salle’ at La Filature was sold out, so the show started for a packed house. As always, it was first the orchestra – this time it was L’Orchestre Symphonique de Mulhouse – that entered the stage, to be followed by ‘the band’. On the drums Steve White, on bass Patrice Guers, and Patrick Rondat on guitar. Both (orchestra and band, that is) were greeted with a friendly applause which rose considerably in volume and enthusiasm as soon as Jon Lord joined the protagonists on stage.
After some introducing words by Jon, the quiet, almost hesitant first notes from the Concerto filled the hall and immediately captured the audience. To me, it is always intriguing, how many different interpretations and subtle variations this masterpiece allows. With every orchestra, every conductor, you get a fresh, never before heard piece of music.
There were two particular highlights in the Concerto this night, the first being Steve Balsamo’s vocals in the Second Movement. They were so much ‘on the spot’, and yet so much improvised and ‘from the heart’ that all I can say is ‘bravo, excellently done’! The second was Steve White’s drum solo during the Third Movement. I’m no musician, but to me there are two ways of playing drums. You can just hit them, and you can play music on them. Steve White is definitely a drummer of the latter kind, and his solo made even Jon go to him and applaud in appreciation.
A short break, and the second half of the evening started with Pictures of Home, followed by Bourrée from Sarabande, the intro of which was particularly lovely with a tiny bell giving the rhythm, some percussions joining in, rising in loudness, then going down again, thus creating a tension until the piano and the rest of the orchestra started with the main tune.
After this lively piece, Kasia Łaska enchanted us with The Sun Will Shine Again. Steve Balsamo did the very same with Pictured Within, his interpretation being very subtle and yet powerful.
Watch: Pictured Within in Mulhouse 2011
The Telemann Experiment speeded things up a bit again, before romance came back with Wait a While. I have to say that Kasia Laska is always giving a great show, but this night she was particularly impressive. She put an incredible amount of subtlety and feeling into her singing and made the audience feel every emotion with her.
And then the real surprise came: both singers on stage, and Jon playing the very familiar (and yet always new and exciting) intro for Perfect Strangers. This Purple classic – a duet? A duet it was, and it not only worked, it worked beautifully well! In this new and impressive arrangement, the song became a totally different ‘beast’ altogether.
Watch: Perfect Strangers in Mulhouse 2011
Obviously, the 1.199 other people in front of the stage shared my opinion, they rewarded this venture (which it was, in a way), with thunderous applause, accompanying Jon, the band, the singers and Gwennolé Rufet, the conductor, who also did a magnificent job this night, on their way from the stage. A great finale of a brilliant night – or?
It didn’t take very long, and they all came back. Jon Lord told a funny story about Buddy Holly, whom he had seen when he was still a young guy. Buddy seemingly also came back to do an encore, telling the audience that they wouldn’t even have needed to cheer that much, as he would have come back anyway. So, Jon said, he would have come back anyway as well.
Then he introduced ‘a song written by David Coverdale and Ritchie Blackmore’ – Soldier of Fortune. Again sung by both Kasia Laska and Steve Balsamo, and again a definite highlight of the evening. But if you thought it couldn’t get any better, you were proved wrong immediately. The distinct intro of Child In Time made the audience gasp, and gave once more room for the two singers – and the band – to shine. And this time, after some bows, everybody left the stage for good.
There is one thing I have to say about the venue. Whether it was the natural acoustics of the hall, or the excellent work of the sound engineer, the sound was crystal clear, and every single instrument individually audible. That’s not always the case, so I think it deserves special mentioning. Same as the audience, btw. When a piece ended on a quiet note, they gave it time to fade away, and only after a split second of silence, did the applause set in (and louder and longer). This was not a proof of a lack of enthusiasm, by no means, but of respect for the mood and quality of the music.
You may have noticed that I haven’t said anything about Jon Lord’s performance so far.
Well, what can I say, apart from ‘pure genius’? He is approaching his seventies, but Jon’s energy seems boundless when he is giving cues to the band, playing/rocking his Hammond, walking about on stage during solos, etc. Then he switches over to the piano, and it’s the same energy, only more focused, and a bit more ‘under the surface’.
But the truly amazing thing is that he just never repeats himself. Whenever you go to a Jon Lord concert, you always hear new, different music. He gave us ‘music from his heart’, and that’s what we all felt and appreciated, so it wasn’t unexpected (and very well-deserved too) that the night ended with thunderous standing ovations.