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Anthony GILBERT (b. 1934)
...Into the Gyre of a Madder Dance (1994)a [6:56]
Certain Lights Reflecting (1988/9)b [18:41]
Unrise (2001)c [15:40]
On Beholding a Rainbow (1992/7, rev. 1998)d [32:05]
Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano)b; Anthony Marwood (violin)d; RNCM Wind Ensembleac; BBC Symphony Orchestrab; RNCM Symphony Orchestrad; Clark Rundellac; Sir Andrew Davisb; Garry Walkerd
Recorded: (live) Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale, London, January 1992 (Certain Lights Reflecting); and Concert Hall of the RNCM, Manchester, May 1999 (On Beholding a Rainbow) and June 2004 (...Into the Gyre of a Madder Dance, Unrise)
NMC D 105 [73:57]

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This recent release from NMC is a fitting 70th birthday tribute to Anthony Gilbert and offers four fairly recent pieces, all written over the last ten years, that perfectly illustrate the breadth and variety of Gilbertís present output.

...Into the Gyre of a Madder Dance, for orchestral wind ensemble, is inspired by a line from a poem by Sarah Day, a writer whose verse has apparently fired Gilbertís imagination since the orchestral song-cycle Certain Lights Reflecting also heard here sets some other poems of hers. The piece opens somewhat hesitatingly and ambiguously with what the composer describes as "blurred woodwind harmonies". Soon after the introduction, a second thematic idea in the form of a chorale-like tune emerges on the horns. Both ideas are constantly opposed, whereas the woodwind chorus gains some stability at each restatement. This leads into a dance section getting some momentum, although woodwind and brass never really meet until it finally appears that they have been playing the same tune all the way through.

Sarah Dayís poems set in the orchestral song-cycle Certain Lights Reflecting "relate to aspects of the Australian landscape Ė its flora, its fauna, and, especially the changing quality of light" (the composerís words). The five songs are quite varied indeed and make for a highly contrasted song sequence. The opening song Two Wreaths is a set of variations and functions as an introduction of some sort, whereas White Cockatoos is a capricious Scherzo the music of which perfectly reflects the poetís description of the birds as "these thick-neck raucous jeerers". The third song While You and I Slept is what the composer describes as a "hidden fugue", opening in a nocturnal mood and getting rather more animated before reverting to the opening mood. The fourth song Lightning Message ("A shoal of fishes moves as if/moved by one mind...") is a delicately scored arietta in which the music ("a tiny gamelan with muted trumpet") vividly evokes brief slivery flashes. The final song Forest is a brooding passacaglia of some considerable expressive power. This song-cycle is, as far as I am concerned, one of the real gems in this disc, and a really beautiful piece that repays repeated hearings.

Unrise for wind ensemble was composed as a 60th birthday tribute for Timothy Reynish who has done much to enlarge the wind ensembleís repertoire. The piece, inspired by a fragment by the Hebrew poet Avraham ben Yitzhak, is in three sections played without a break and is actually a theme and variations of some sort, since the second section Echoes and the third section Not-rising are actually transformations of the material stated in the opening section Trumpetings.

Gilbertís violin concerto On Beholding a Rainbow is a large-scale and quite substantial piece of music cast in the fairly traditional quick-slow-quick mould, albeit developed with much invention and imagination. The first movement Passacaglia nascondita ("Hidden passacaglia") is by far the longest and most substantial of the three. This double passacaglia is quite intricately worked-out. By comparison, the slow movement Cantilena is fairly straightforward, mostly song-like with refined orchestral accompaniment. The final movement Variazioni in modo perpetuo is a brilliant display moving along at great speed and rushing almost effortlessly to its assertive close. On Beholding a Rainbow is a piece of great lyrical beauty and one of the great violin concertos of the late 20th century. It also perfectly illustrates the point that for all its technical complexity, Gilbertís music is first and foremost of great expressive strength. Indeed, when listening to a piece of his, one always forgets all the workings behind the music and one begins to "appreciate the energy, the poetry, the intelligence, integrity and originality" of it. These words from Douglas Jarmanís article Some Notes on the Music of Anthony Gilbert (in Manchester Sounds, Vol.4 and in Tempo, Vol. 58 nos. 229 and 230) aptly put his music in perspective.

Gilbert is a major composer who is Ė at long last Ė being given his due in terms of commercial recordings. (True, another NMC release [NMC D 068] has already, as it were, "paved the way".) I do not think that these committed and strongly convincing performances could be bettered. If you do not know any of Gilbertís music, this is the disc to have, whereas others will need no further recommendation. Unreservedly recommended and definitely not to be missed.

Hubert Culot

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