Gerhard: Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 1

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Olivier Charlier (violin)BBC SO/Matthias Bamert
These two works come from the middle period of Roberto Gerhard’s career, when he was moving away from the Catalan folk-inspired (but already Schoenberg-influenced) ballets such as Don Quixote, towards the prismatic, splintered style of the late Fifties and Sixties. The brilliantly engaging Violin Concerto is poised exactly halfway. The castanets and sardana rhythms are there, but so cunningly woven into the hyper-rich texture that any suggestion of ‘picture-postcard’ Catalonia is instantly banished. Likewise the exuberantly virtuoso solo part – superbly carried off by Olivier Charlier – makes a musical virtue out of show-piece tricks. The Symphony is a much darker piece. The moonlit texture of the first movement, with its skittering upper strings and xylophone, sometimes seems a bit too close to Schoenberg. But the magnificently brooding second movement finds a more personal voice, and the last is as masterly a portrayal of anti-climax and desolate disappointment as I know. This movement in particular needs a sure sense of timing, and an ability to invest those angular lines and austere harmonies with the necessary tension. On both counts Bamert and the BBC SO score very highly. The sound is clear but dry, with a lack of warmth which makes the music seem more forbiddingly austere than it need. Ivan Hewett