The Great Gates Of Nürnberg (Highland HL557/558)
Meistersingerhalle, Nürnberg, Germany – June 11th, 1971
Disc 1: Promenade, The Gnome, Promenade, The Sage, The Old Castle, blues variation, Promenade, The Hut Of Baba Yaga, The Curse Of Baba Yaga, The Hut Of Baba Yaga, The Great Gates Of Kiev, The Barbarian, Tarkus
Disc 2: Take A Pebble (incl. piano improvisation), Knife Edge, Rondo (incl. drum solo), Nutrocker
The Great Gates Of Nürnbergis one of two recent releases by the Highland label from ELP’s tour of Europe. This is right before the release of their second LP Tarkus and surpisingly only the title track is played. Some confusion about the date exists. Highland follows the common assumption and places this tape on June 11th which places it between the June 10th show in Offenbach and the June 12th appearance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Other sources place this show a week earlier on June 2nd between the June 1st gig in Karlsruhe and the June 3rd Vienna tape. The sound quality lies between fair too good. There is very little tape hiss so it is probably a low generation source used by the label. Parts of softer volume like Lake’s acoustic solo “The Sage” are more difficult to hear than the electric passages.
There is a small cut in the tape after the “Pictures” suite for the intermission and what might be a small cut at the very beginning of “Tarkus” (it is hard to tell). There is an unfortunate tape whine in the middle of “Rondo” that lasts for a couple of minutes. The Meistersingerhalle is a venue built in the early sixties specifically for concerts of classical music. It contains two concert halls (it isn’t known which one ELP used), both constructed to give the best acoustics possible. Although this tape isn’t the best, the venue adds to give is a rich texture. “We’d like to start of with ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ and please sit down in front” is Emerson’s introductory words before the first “Promenade”.
ELP deliver a full forty minute version of the piece that wouldn’t be released officially until the following year. The audience are very quiet throughout and it is amazing to hear how respectful the Nürnberg audience is during the performance of “Pictures”. One can almost hear a pin drop! The opening “Promenade” is very clear and powerful which leads into “The Gnome”. Greg Lake sounds a bit tentative during his spot in “The Sage” for some reason. It sounds as if his guitar isn’t miked properly since it is very soft. “The Old Castle” and the following blues variation are one of the highlights of the suite and it is a shame they dropped it on later tours and in their studio recording in 1993.
Emerson is very loose on the organ during the blues improvisation, flying high over the rhythm section. He also employs some tense electronic swoops during “The Curse Of Baba Yaga.” The finale of the piece, “The Great Gates Of Kiev”, sounds huge in this recording with a deep echo and includes Emerson’s noise interlude halfway through. Emerson announces they will take a break and the second half of the show begins with a lengthy tune up. There is some conversation by the recorder in German about Lake’s voice before “The Barbarian”, ELP’s first effort as a group. It sounds extremely heavy and the Bartók interlude is recorded very well. “Tarkus” follows and, since the album wasn’t released until the following week, is a brand new piece of music unfamiliar to the audience. It was introduced to the stage the previous March and this is one of the earliest versions on a commercial boot.
The song lasts about twenty-three minutes and is very faithful to the studio version before all of the improvisational passages would extend the piece in the future. Lake especially becomes very intense as he shouts out the lyrics. Emerson introduces Greg Lake for his song “Take A Pebble”. This version is almost twenty minutes in duration and contains the “Ballad Of Blue”. The song stops due to what seems to be some equipment problems as Lake says something to the audience, inaudible in this recording. Emerson begins a scorching jazz improvisation which includes a call and response with Lake on the bass. “Rondo” is twenty-three minutes long. The audience cheers loudly as Emerson stabs the organ with knives to sustain the notes and is followed by a twelve minute Carl Palmer drum solo where he shows off every aspect of his drum kit.
The whine on the tape is unfortunate since it detracts from an otherwise excellent performance, and the tape during the drum solo becomes a bit distorted. Emerson thanks and calls the Nürnberg “the best audience in Germany we’ve played to yet” before launching into “Nutrocker”. Greg Lakes throws in some lyrics from “Preacher Blues”; “I laugh in the sunshine and I laugh in the rain”. Truly a unique event! Highland use a Pictures At An Exhibition motif on the front, back, and inside inserts effectively. The front has the cover artwork for Tarkus in a frame, the inside has photos of Emerson lifting his Hammond and another photo of the three on stage. The label has several releases from ELP’s summer shows in 1971 and this is a very good title worth investigating.