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.
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
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
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
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.