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David GOMPPER (b.1954)
Violin Concerto (2009) [25:01]
Ikon, for violin and orchestra (2008) [18:25]
Flip, for orchestra (1993) [10:28]
Spirals, for two violins and orchestra [16:34]
Wolfgang David (violin); Peter Zazofsky (violin II)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Emmanuel Siffert
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 9-10 December 2009. DDD

Experience Classicsonline

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 each other.

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.

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