Roberto Gerhard: Symphony No. 4 'New York'; Violin Concerto

Colin Davis

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Roberto Gerhard: Symphony No. 4 'New York'; Violin Concerto Review

by James Leonard

The composer's use of Schoenberg's dodecaphonic system may make it difficult for some listeners to grasp the music of Spanish-English composer Roberto Gerhard, but his complete avoidance of recognizable themes will make it just about impossible. That the decision to make things difficult for potential listeners was consciously made is demonstrated in this coupling of the composer's Violin Concerto from 1945 and his Fourth Symphony from 1967. Where the earlier work is still semi-tonal and still quasi-thematic, and thus still comprehensible to listeners comfortable with contemporary works by Stravinsky and Shostakovich, the later work's deliberate avoidance of traditional methods of musical organization may make understanding tough for the first-time listener.

As this classic 1972 Lyrita coupling with Colin Davis leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra proves, both works can succeed when played with sufficient ability and energy. In this performance by violinist Yfrah Neaman, Gerhard's three-movement Violin Concerto comes off as elegantly passionate, brilliantly virtuosic, and thoroughly comprehensible. Neaman is up for the work's extravagantly flamboyant opening Allegro cantabile, as well as for its soulfully lyrical central Largo. While not as accessible as the concerto, Gerhard's single-movement Fourth Symphony is still quite persuasive in this performance. Davis is a master at shaping the work's textures, tempos, and colors to form a unified whole, and the BBC cooperates by turning in a skillful and dedicated performance that belies its lack of familiarity with the rarely performed score. Though not for everyone, those interested in the work of Schoenberg's pupils will certainly want at least to audition this disc. Lyrita's stereo sound is clear, deep, and direct.

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