David Garrett – Rock Symphonies – Decca Records B0014442-02, 39:10 ****:
(David Garrett – violin; drums; Jeff Allen – bass guitar; Marcus Wolf – guitar; Franck van der Heljden – guitar; John Haywood – piano; Orianthi – electric guitar; The City Of Prague Philharmonic)
David Garrett, German-born violin phenomenon, seems to have been in the public eye his entire life. He began performing at the age of seven, and studied with Ida Haendel in Europe, and Itzhak Perlman at the prestigious Julliard School. His legendary prowess is credited with being able to play thirteen notes in one second. As a teenager he recorded two CDs and became a sensation on German television. With inimitable dynamism, he viewed music as a landscape for expression, ranging from Perlman to Jimi Hendrix. Signed to Decca Records, his 2008 debut, Encore, laid the groundwork for a quest to unite divergent musical disciplines. The framework of a rock band was the catalyst that would shape the immediate future.
Rock Symphonies is an inventive combination of classical music arranged for rock; rock music arranged for classical; and a hybrid blend of the two genres. Garrett understands the synergy and captures these incarnations in concise structures (most are between three and four minutes). “Smells Like Teen Spirit” conveys the anthem like intensity of this Nirvana masterpiece, punctuated by the City of Prague Philharmonic. In the version of Aerosmith’s funky “Walk This Way”, the rock and roll attitude is there with Garrett’s rollicking violin solos, as well as the piercing guitar work of Orianthi. With an obvious appreciation and emotional connection to hard-edged rock composition, Garrett is able to infuse his extraordinary virtuosity. “Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Kashmir” would appear to be untouchable as a cover, but a faithful rendition works perfectly. The menacing opening flows into the belligerent rhythm chords as the violin replaces the trademark Jimmy Page guitar lead with verve and resounding lyrical pretense. With all of the rock covers, the bombastic essence is never mitigated. The cinematic broadness of “Live And Let Die” (Paul McCartney) is augmented by the flurries of explosive violin runs, but the format of the song remains intact.
The adaptations of the classical pieces are dialectic and more spontaneous. Bach’s ‘Toccata” (Toccata and Fugue in D Minor) substitutes orchestra and bass guitar for the organ, and lets Garrett cut loose with his astonishing technique. A blistering tempo transforms “Asturias” (5th Movement from Suite Espanola No.1 for piano by Isaac Albeniz) into a virtual passion play with flamenco-tinged percussion and a barrage of cascading violin runs driven by orchestral cadence. The most adventurous piece is “Vivaldi vs. Vertigo” The track opens with the Winter Concerto for violin and orchestra, and segues into what sounds like Bono (U2), chanting hello from the original recording. Finally there is a merging of the two songs, reflected in a chaotic resonance.
Not every cut is imaginative, but David Garrett shares a unique vision. He takes a leap of faith in order to make classical music accessible…or is he making rock music accessible? [Then there’s his visual performances, as seen recently on PBS. So over the top that perhaps it’s better to stick with the audio recordings…Ed.]
TrackList: Smells Like Teen Spirit; November Rain; The 5th; Walk This Way; Toccata; Vivaldi Vs. Vertigo; Master Of Puppets; 80’s Anthem; Live And Let Die; Asturias; Kashmir.)
— Robbie Gerson