WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Six Episodes; Four Pieces for solo violin; Der rote Teppich wird ausgerott; Bossa Nova
PERFORMER: London Sinfonietta/HK Gruber
CATALOGUE NO: 5124 DDD (distr. New Note)
This disc appears under the banner of Alternative Vienna, alongside the vocal works of Cerha and Schwertsik (reviewed in Choral and Song on page 70), a movement that has rejected so much of the postwar avant-garde, and with which Gruber has been identified. However, the achievement of the best work in this collection is more than substantial enough to transcend any kind of pigeonholing. This 1978 concerto is one of the finest violin concertos of our time, a consummate example of its composer’s instinctive musicianship and undogmatic practicality.
If the term ‘post-modern’ means anything at all, it defines precisely the kind of stylistic freedom that Gruber exploits so fruitfully in the concerto. The elements of Stravinskian neo-classicism and Bergian Expressionism are combined in a wonderfully potent mixture. The subtitle,’… woven from the scent of shadow…’, hints at the processes behind the piece, derived from a theme that is only revealed as an afterthought to the entire work, as a gorgeous popular melody of Gruber’s own invention.
In a perfect world this achingly nostalgic Violin Concerto would have been coupled with Gruber’s equally impressive Cello Concerto written a few years later. Here it is surrounded by smaller-scale pieces which make fewer claims for profundity, though the prelude for chamber orchestra The Red Carpet… is a neat litde evocation of the Austrian tradition that includes Schoenberg. All the performances are first-rate, even if the recording sometimes seems a bit constricted. Andrew Clements