Though his name may not be known to many, American composer,
pianist and conductor David Gompper has a sizeable discography
to his credit. This has gathered considerable momentum over
the last three or four years but this is the first CD anywhere
to be entirely devoted to his music.
Of the works on this disc, only Spirals has been recorded
before, on Albany TROY 1110. A further Albany disc, featuring
Gompper as pianist to Wolfgang David's violin, and including
Gompper's own 1997 work for violin and piano, Finnegan's
Wake, is warmly received in this
review, worth reading also for its unreasonable chastisement
of Gompper's apostrophe, which has every right to be in his
title - the orthographic peccadillo was Joyce's alteration of
a grammatical original!
In a concert programme, Spirals or Ikon would
have been better placed at the beginning, as a violin-with-orchestra
warm-up for the 'big piece', the Violin Concerto. CDs can be
programmed to play in any order but opening the disc with the
Concerto does make it top-heavy and detract a little from the
shorter works. Anyway, the Concerto itself began life as a work
for violin and piano, Echoes, with which it now co-exists,
both pieces written for Wolfgang David. In effect an intriguing
mixture of Romanticism and discreet atonality, the musical ideas
of the Concerto are based on the growth of non-straight trees,
of all things, although the original 'echoing' motif is still
apparent throughout. The Concerto is a fine work: there is more
than enough invention, excitement, variety and breadth of appeal
here for both violinists and audiences for this work to find
a place in the orchestral repertoire.
The second work, Ikon, also exists in a version for violin
and piano, and is also a kind of violin concerto, in three movement-like
sections. It is a musical portrayal of a nineteenth-century
Russian religious icon, at least in terms of proportions, shapes
and positionings, though presumably Gompper did not at any point
make use of the old iconographers' bits of string and compasses.
Ikon is particularly imaginatively scored, with contributions
from piano, vibraphone, wooden blocks and gong. Like Flip
and Spirals, it has a rigorous intellectual, almost
mathematical rationale, but an appealing feature of Gompper's
writing is that its abstract underpinnings do not need to be
understood in the least for the music itself to be enjoyed,
so ample is the emotional content and so aesthetically agreeable
the purely musical detail.
Spirals, for two violins and strings, has three movement-like
sections, medium-slow-fastish. Amazingly, given the immediate
attractiveness of the piece, the musical Spirals of the title
are based on the mathematical Fibonacci sequence, which according
to Gompper was applied to all musical parameters. That this
work really is based on scientific concepts is hard to credit,
so limpid is its cantabile musicality. Towards the end - or
the outer arm of a spiral - the orchestral strings start to
quieten down, finally leaving just the two violins - Peter Zazofsky
here providing the reinforcements - chirruping beautifully to
Flip is the odd-man-out, written for small string orchestra
only. The 'flipping' of the title is multifarious, ranging from
the binary - loud/soft, high-pitched/low-pitched, harmonic/melodic,
bowed/plucked - to the puff pastry kind, where themes are turned
under and over one another in various ways; and to altogether
fishier kinds, such as using the theme tune of the 1970s TV
show Flipper, or the musical equivalent of "a dancer
doing back-flips," in Gompper's enigmatic words. All of
this lends the work a rhythmic and dynamic twitchiness that
keeps the orchestra on its toes and, for a while, the listener
from getting comfortable perhaps - this is certainly the most
modernistic work of the four.
David's intonation, tone and technique are magnificent, as demonstrated
in particular in the delicate second movement cadenza and the
segue into the violinistic fireworks of the concise Presto finale.
The Royal Philharmonic are historically undaunted by anything
they are asked to play, which in truth has not always left the
Orchestra with its dignity intact; but here they are thankfully
a long way from cheapening their reputation for commercial benefit
and turn in another of their countless fine performances, under
Emmanuel Siffert's reliable guidance.
Sound quality is very good in the tried and tested, and indeed
handsome, acoustic of the Henry Wood Hall. The two soloists
are well balanced against the orchestra. The only minor complaint
is that David's microphone seems to be strapped to his face,
so audible is his breathing in the quieter violin passages.
Gompper has supplied his own interesting notes for the booklet,
which also features a cover photo by Eric Gompper, who might
just be a relative.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk