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Past forward

The Beatles go backwards in a
musical time machine

Remixers try to make the old sound new. Thank heavens this isn't another of those tapes. It does something exactly the reverse: it makes 20th century rock and roll sound like 17th century baroque!

Thank you, Peter Breiner, for turning the Beatles on their heads. It's as though you've taken Kishore Kumar's hits, and rendered them in the ancient dhrupad style.

Baroque is a style which emerged in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, sandwiched between the Renaissance and the Classical periods. Breiner borrows the styles of the great composers of the baroque age, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Lully and Scarlatti.

When something was called baroque, it meant it was overdone. The baroque age was considered a period of artistic decadence, coming as it did after the glorious Renaissance.

It took till the late 18th century for the contributions of the baroque period to gain recognition. Historians now say baroque dared to use dissonances with more audacity than Renaissance composers. Instrumental music acquired equal footing with vocal music. The violin was introduced in this era, so too were the trombone, the horn, the trumpet, the bassoon, the viola and the violincello. If operas, cantatas and oratarias were introduced as new forms of vocal music, sonatas, concertos, suites and fugues were the major instrumental works.

Baroque produced all these over a mere 60-70 years.

One main melody

The baroque preference for a principal melody rather than layered multiple ones (counterpoint) suits the simple tunes of the Beatles. Breiner adds a live acoustic orchestra with the flute, oboe, cellos, violins, horns and achieves an authentic baroque feel.

The first side presents 10 songs in the style of Handel and Vivaldi as concerti grossi or large concertos.

The Handel-style concerto is made up of She loves you, Lady Madonna, Fool on the hill, Honey pie and Penny Lane.

The original melody is retained and more baroque expressions on the violin are added. After the gusty tempo of Lady Madonna, Fool on the hill's meditative tempo is soothing. If you did not know the Beatles' song you would swear it was an original baroque piece.

Breiner does not retain the set beat of Honey Pie throughout the piece, weaving in and out of it. Penny Lane's straight notes are embellished with double notes and trills.

The second concerto in the style of Vivaldi is made up of A hard day's night, Girl, And I love her, Paperback writer and Help. A hard day's nights melody is retained, and all the embellishment is done by the large orchestra. The string section plays a lively, packed set of notes on a larger chordal back up. Girl too is built on the same lines, the violins flutter around in ethereal wonder.

The tenderness of And I love her is wonderfully captured in a solo violin. Breiner modifies the original rhythm a bit. As the solo violin ponders on, the string section murmurs like the sea in the background.

You could visualise Paperback writer as the music for a grand ball in Versailles, with powdered wigs and bejewelled ladies swaying in time.

Help is very richly done, and has a breathless effect to it. There is some respite in the first movement, but the string section and bass sustain the pace.

Side B features Concerto 3 in the style of Bach with The long and winding road, Eight days a week, She's leaving home, We can work it out, Hey Jude and Yellow Submarine.

The flute and oboe come into the picture with Bach, where it didn't figure with Handel and Vivaldi. The string section sounds richer. Could there be other additional instruments like the viola and violincello on the string section? Bach did come later in the baroque period and these instruments were only then getting into concert mode.

Concerto 4 with Here comes the sun, Michelle, Goodnight and Carry that weight is presumably in Breiner's own style. The flute is not heard, the rich string section continues.

This is an exceptional tape, bringing the best of contemporary music and baroque music together in inimitable style. Breiner is not only steeped in baroque music but has a democratic attitude towards rock and roll to be able to interpret its idiom in his favourite style of classical music.

S Suchitra Lata

Beatles go Baroque
Peter Breiner and His Chamber Orchestra
Milestone Entertainment
Rs 80

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