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Steven R GERBER (b. 1948)
Violin Concerto (1993) [22:13]
Cello Concerto (1994) [22:04]
Serenade for String Orchestra (1990) [18:37]
Kurt Nikkanen (violin); Carter Brey (cello)
National Chamber Orchestra/Piotr Gajewski
rec. 6 February 2000 (violin); 17 October 1999 (cello); 5 march 2000 (Serenade), Washington DC. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

I have recently been listening to a number of discs from Koch's serendipitous back catalogue. This has taken in works by Neikrug, Pinkham, Hovhaness, Cowell, Roy Harris and now Steven Gerber.
Gerber was born in Washington DC. He is based in New York City. His teachers included Earl Kim and Milton Babbitt (see his website). The earliest works leaned on serial apparatus but from 1981 onwards he has embraced tonality although not unconditionally. His fidelity to tonality can be heard in full splendour in the Violin Concerto written for and premiered by Kurt Nikkanen.
It's good to hear from Nikkanen again. Like so many other top young players he enjoyed a clutch of celebrity launch discs and then dropped from international sight. Here he champions Gerber's rather romantic Violin Concerto which veers between the tropics of American 1930s pastoral and torrid Barber-Menotti-Flagello. In the central Lento an almost Tchaikovskian effusion of song stretches high into the whistling realms occupied by Pettersson’s Seventh Symphony and by Sibelius in his Humoresques. The aggressive mordant brawling and boisterous finale is half the length of either of the first two movements. This concerto is absolutely stunningly recorded and the finale demonstrates these technical virtues quite apart from being a pleasure to listen to repeatedly.
The Violin Concerto was premiered by Nikkanen in 1994 in Moscow and Novosibirsk. It was given its first US performance by the artists recorded here. That took place in 1995 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The Cello Concerto was written for the artists we hear on this disc. Like the Violin Concerto it is in three movements of which the first is that rare bird a sheerly happy piece of music. It will bring a smile without talking down to the listener. This music is a little like Martinů in his most smiling mood. The central movement is the fast one. This is deeply pleasing and is written in a progression that stretches forwards from the Dvořák Cello Concerto. By contrast with the Violin Concerto the work ends with a long and thoughtful Passacaglia which includes a melody and rounded treatment of touching tenderness (3:03). This recalls, in mood alone, the finale of the Finzi Cello Concerto.
The Serenade is a work of romance and grace with some incisively expressed and thrustingly passionate music along the way - as at 2:03 and 5:19 forward.
I should also add that, contrary to the expectations, raised or dashed by the name of the orchestra its sound is very big – no suggestion of strings pared down to chamber proportions. This is a full and fleshy orchestral sound. A blizzard of scorching woody and sometimes steely ostinato provides irresistible propulsion and optimism for the finale. At 4.30 this develops the outward garb of minimalism. Most entertaining.
Steven Gerber is one of those composers whose works I will be very happy to encounter again. To date the Gerber discs on Arabesque (see review) and on Chandos (see review) have passed me by. I wonder what else there is out there.
Rob Barnett


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