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R. GERBER (b. 1948) Spirituals for String Orchestra (1999-2001) [18:33]
Clarinet Concerto (2000-2002) [20:44] Serenade Concertante (1998) [16:36]
(clarinet); José Miguel Cueto (violin); Natalia
St Petersburg State Academic Symphony/Vladimir Lande
rec. 29-30 January 2005 (Spirituals; Serenade);
9 September 2005 (Concerto), Krukov Kanal Recording Studio,
St Petersburg, Russia. DDD ARABESQUE RECORDINGS
Gerber is an American composer who began his career
in New York and later travelled extensively in Russia.
His works have been performed internationally and he has
composed concertos for notable soloists, such as Yuri Bashmet.
His style is contemporary, making use of dissonant harmonies
but with a strong melodic sense. In this work, he successfully
blends recognizable motivic ideas with his own compositional
voice, creating something entirely fresh. Each movement
takes on a different atmosphere, displaying Gerber’s compositional
range. The playing, from the St Petersburg State Academic
Symphony is competent and solid.
Spirituals is a set of ten short pieces which each
take their inspiration from well known spirituals. Composed
for string orchestra, the mood is meditative and calm.
Despite some slight intonation issues at the opening
of the Clarinet Concerto, the musical atmosphere is
instantly gripping. Composed for and dedicated to Jon Manasse,
the performer on this recording, the work opens with an Arvo
Pärt-like introduction, and quickly gives way to faster material.
Gerber makes use of harp and pizzicato strings, and there
are solos from the woodwind section. With its angular melodic
lines, the solo clarinet part is expressively played and
well-controlled, with a rich sound and varied tone colours.
Gerber’s orchestration allows for all the individual orchestral
parts to be clearly heard, and the music is accessible and
interesting. The second of the two movements features unisons
and octave doublings, with the clarinet providing a variation
over the melodic line. The simplicity of this gesture is
remarkable, building to a climax which gives way to a haunting
clarinet solo over sustained notes in the strings. The movement
provides a number of opportunities for the orchestral woodwind
to shine. Despite some wonderful moments, however - including
the very beautiful static ending - the movement as a whole
failed to hold my interest.
The final piece on this disc, the Serenade
Concertante begins in the same vein as the end of the
clarinet concerto. Two solo violins are heard over octaves
in the accompanying strings. Having listened from the beginning
of the disc, by this point I was starting to crave some
kind of variety. The variety came in the form of an all
too brief faster section which had grit and drive, and
reminded me of the spirit of the Schnittke Concerto
Grosso. This is all too quickly replaced, however,
by a statement of the passacaglia bass line, over
which the solo violins play repeated scalic figures. The
material builds in intensity, returning once again to the
opening material. The second movement has more energy,
with an Allegro non troppo which provides a very
welcome change of disposition. Gerber provides us with Variations
on B-R-A-H-M-S before the Allegro returns once
more at the end.
It is clear from this disc that Gerber has a strong
voice, and there are moments of excellence, with strong melodic
lines and musically interesting material. His style is reminiscent
of Vaughan Williams, and is accessibly modern. The performances
are consistent and there is some good playing from the soloists.
Personally, I felt the lack of variety in harmonic language
between these pieces blighted the CD overall, but I’d be
interested to hear more of Gerber’s work.
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