Jack GALLAGHER (b.1947)
Diversions Overture (1986) [10:07]
Berceuse (1977) [5:19]
Sinfonietta (1989/1990 – 2006/2007 rev 2008) [26:45]
Symphony in One Movement: Threnody (1991 rev 2008) [21:36]
London Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Faletta
rec. 5-6 January 2009, Abbey Road, Studio 1, London. DDD
NAXOS 8.559652 [63:47]

I have been critical of several issues in the Naxos American Classics series. I have felt that, perhaps, a little more time and care in choosing the repertoire for the disks might have been taken. There have been so very many damp squibs. It’s that age old problem of this is good because it is modern and the new is to be revered without question (the Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome). If the music has tunes it’s better that the composer is long dead. Composers still with us of the older generation who fit into this tuneful, communicative, category are to be tolerated. But, let’s be honest, isn’t it exciting to find a contemporary composer who can write tunes, orchestrate well, communicate easily with his, or her, audience and doesn’t fill their music with unnecessary angst? Please welcome Jack Gallagher, a man who has been a name to me for some time, but whose music I have never encountered – until now. And I am very pleased to have met him for he is worthwhile in so very many ways.

Unlike so many contemporary composers Gallagher has something to say and he knows how to entertain. He doesn’t waste a note – marvellous – and when you see who his mentors are, you understand how he came to this position. He studied with Elie Siegmeister, Robert Palmer and Burrill Phillips, participated in seminars with Karel Husa, Thea Musgrave and Ned Rorem, and undertook master-classes with Aaron Copland, George Crumb and William Bolcom. All this study has been put to very good use.

Diversions Overture starts in a serious way – very lovely it is, in that well known, and typical, American outdoor style, with a fair wind blowing in your hair and light sunshine pouring down. You know that that’s not what’s going to be the main point of the piece, and, sure enough, after a fine build–up, there’s an outburst of real joyousness. Think of William Mathias’s Dance Overture with an American brashness and you’ve got it. Marvellous stuff.

The Berceuse is another piece of Americana, very beautiful and simplicity itself. The Sinfonietta. for string orchestra, never loses sight of easy communication and like the Diversions Overture, it is full of entertaining music. The five movements are inventive and make a very pleasing divertissement, nothing serious here, just a delight in music-making.

Gallagher’s Symphony in One Movement: Threnody is made of sterner stuff. As you’d expect from the sub–title, this is a very serious affair, the first half slow and funereal, dark and brooding, then the music explodes into a fast section of power and tension. This is challenging stuff, and very impressive indeed. The ending is a riot of colour and energy.

This is one of the most interesting issues in the American Classics series. Powerful, well written music, which has a purpose and isn’t afraid to say what it has to say. The orchestration is of the most brilliant and, at times, extrovert, and it’s all laid out clearly for its audience. The performances are very good, although once or twice I sensed a slight discomfort in the high string writing. JoAnn Faletta is a fine conductor - why do we never see her on the concert platform in London, I wonder? She gets strong and committed performances from the London Symphony. The recorded sound is magnificent and the notes, by the composer himself, are very helpful in introducing the music. I am impressed, and so will you. At the modest price this is a real find!

Bob Briggs

At the modest price this is a real find!