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Steven R. GERBER (b. 1948)
Spirituals for String Orchestra (1999-2001) [18:33]
Clarinet Concerto (2000-2002) [20:44]
Serenade Concertante (1998) [16:36]
Jon Manasse (clarinet); José Miguel Cueto (violin); Natalia Malkova (violin)
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
Experience Classicsonline

Steven 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.
Carla Rees


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