Album Review: Rock Symphonies by David Garrett

Rock SymphoniesDavid Garrett is a Juilliard trained violinist and composer who is committed to introducing young music fans to the classics by mixing elements of classical, rock, pop, and R&B music. His latest album, Rock Symphonies, consists of tracks ranging from rock versions of famous pieces by Bach and Beethoven to “classical” arrangements of Aerosmith and Nirvana. Each track distills essential riffs and melodies from classical and rock tunes into 3 to 4 minute arrangements, giving the listener a taste of each piece.

David Garrett is like a modern-day Fritz Kreisler, an early 20th century violinist/composer who created highly romanticized compositions in the style of early classical composers such as Giuseppe Tartini and Antonio Vivaldi. Kreisler was famous for his passionate performances and ability to relate to the general public. Similarly, Garrett’s highly romanticized arrangements showcase his masterful technique, luscious vibrato, and beautiful tone. The end result of this album is mixed. Several tracks inspire serious headbanging, although a few slip past the realm of romanticism into the arena of schmaltz.

Exclusive fan packs of Rock Symphonies are available through the following website.

Highlights of the album

“Walk This Way” leans towards the 1986 Run DMC hip-hop cover of the original 1975 Aerosmith tune. Garrett dresses up the simple melody with lightning-fast runs and double-stop slides. Garrett’s solos mesh perfectly with the distinctive sound of guest guitarist Orianthi.

“Toccata” is an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 for organ. The orchestra and electric guitars add breadth and gravity to the bass range of the organ. Garrett demonstrates wickedly fast bariolage bowing (a technique where the left hand fingers are held down over several strings while the bow oscillates between the strings) over deep orchestral pedal tones and arpeggios which climb into the stratosphere of violin’s range.

“Vivaldi vs. Vertigo” is a fascinating mashup of the first moment of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” Concerto for Violin and Orchestra from The Four Seasons (Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297) and U2’s “Vertigo”. The traditional classical introduction of the piece is suddenly interrupted by a repeated sample of U2 lead vocalist Bono singing “Hello, Hello,” from the chorus of “Vertigo”. The descending motive from “Vertigo” creates a surprisingly good counterpoint and interesting harmonies with a descending sequence from “Winter”. The end of the song features the string orchestra playing minor chords over the clash of U2’s electric guitars.

“Asturias”, a heart-pounding arrangement of the 5th movement from Suite española No. 1, Op. 47 for piano by Isaac Albéniz, displays Garrett’s enviably perfect spiccato and ricochet techniques (bow strokes which allow the bow to bounce off of the string). Electric guitars and percussion emphasize the rhythmic drive of the piece while drawn-out notes from the orchestra created a heightened sense of tension. The middle of the piece features the orchestra imitating the percussive sound of castanets used in flamenco music with a technique called con legno (clicking the stick of the bow against the instrument’s strings).

In the Led Zeppelin song “Kashmir”, Garrett pays tribute to one of his rock idols, Jimmy Page. In addition to emulating Page’s guitar style, Garrett also adds classical style double stops and counterpoint to this rock classic.

Tunes that just don’t work

“The 5th” is an arrangement of Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67 by Ludvig von Beethoven, one of the most overplayed classical pieces of all time. Garrett’s arrangement was unfortunately reminiscent of “A Fifth of Beethoven”, a tragic instrumental disco version of Beethoven’s masterpiece mangled by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple band. Beethoven just doesn’t mesh with a rock or disco beat.

“November Rain”, an arrangement of a Guns ‘n Roses tune, and “80’s Anthem” were cheesy enough to spread on a cracker. Both songs suffered from an overabundance of wide, wobbly vibrato and soupy slides.

Track listing is as follows:

  1. Smells like Teen Spirit
  2. November Rain
  3. The 5th
  4. Walk This Way (featuring Orianthi)
  5. Toccata
  6. Vivaldi vs. Vertigo
  7. Master of Puppets
  8. 80’s Anthem
  9. Live and Let Die
  10. Asturias
  11. Kashmir
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