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Portmouth Sinfonia "The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics" (LP)

Portmouth Sinfonia "The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics" (LP)

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Genre: classical/bizarre
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Title:  The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics
Company: Columbia
Catalog: PC-33049
Year: 1974
Country/State: UK
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: minor ring wear
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 4271
Price: $75.00

Call them daring musical innovators, or a group of musical comedians. Whatever. The Portsmouth Sinfonia are likely to bring back wonderful memories for folks who happened to attend college during the mid-70s.  

Most folks mistakenly think Roxy Music keyboardist/composer Brian Eno was the brains behind this outfit. Wrong. It was actually composer Gavin Bryars who started the ensemble in 1969 while attending the Portsmouth College of Art (hence the name). (Eno was a member of the group during the 1970 - 74 period and helped produce the group's first two LPs.)

In creating The Portsmouth Sinfonia Bryars' notion was the ultimate in musical democracy - namely anyone could join the group; no matter what skill level or musical proficiency they might have. The commitment was that you attended the rehearsals and made an effort to actually learn the material, which was initially limited to the most commonly known parts of well known classical pieces. By 1973 the group had grown to roughly 80 members, spanning the range from accomplished performers to totally incompetent.

Signed by the small UK folk-oriented Traditional label, the group debuted with 1974's "The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics". Amazingly this is a great album. Sure, the thought of folks trying to butcher music may not have much appeal to the rank and file listener, but that's not the case here. These folks were apparently really trying to make good music. That's what makes this so much fun. The clash of will, desire and talent makes for an intriguing blend of blown melodies, happenstance and hysterically funny ineptitude. Imagine a room full of folks trying to guess where the melody is ... or just imagine attending your child's first school band performance. Highlights include something resembling "Nutcracker Suite", "William Tell Overture", a root canal-painful "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and drunken stupor stab at "Blue Danube Waltz". Probably as a result of Eno's participation (he produced the set), Columbia Records picked up American distribution. Clearly unsure what to do with the group, Columbia tried to market the set as a comedy album ("Indisputably, the worst orchestra in the world."). Needless to say, their efforts fell on deaf ears ...

Plays the Popular Classics" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) From Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 (Grieg) - 3:23
2.) From The Nutcracker Suite (Tschikovsky) - 3:00
3.) 5th Sinfony in C Minor, Op. 67 (Beethoven)
4.) William Tell Overture (Rossini)

(side 2)
1.) Also Sprach Zarathustra Op. 31 (Excerp) (Richard Strauss)    
2.) Blue Danube Waltz, Op. 314 (Johann Strauss)    
3.) Air from Suite No. 3 in D Minor (J. S. Bach)
4.) Farandole from L`Arlesienne Suite No. 2 (Bizet)
5.) Jupiter from The Planets, Op. 32 (Excerpt) (Holst)
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