The last few years have witnessed a dramatic expansion of the Roberto Gerhard discography, resulting from the upsurge of interest around the composer’s centenary in 1996. As recently as five years ago there were only a couple of orchestral discs available, whereas there are now 15 recordings encompassing the full range of the composer’s output, with many more in the pipeline.
Pioneers in committing Gerhard’s music to disc have been Auvidis who now have six discs on the Montaigne label including a complete symphonic cycle from the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife under Victor Pablo Perez, and recordings of the composer’s colourful ballet suites and vocal works conducted by Edmon Colomer. The most recent CD features the first recording of the Cantata: L’Alta Naixença del Rei en Jaume, an ironic musical retelling of a colourful episode in Catalan history (MO 782106). Challenging Auvidis with its own Gerhard series is Chandos, who have recently launched a rival symphonic cycle with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Matthias Bamert, recorded under the auspices of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust. This follows the success of the Chandos recording of Gerhard’s opera The Duenna, performed by Opera North (CHAN 9520).
The most recent Chandos release (CHAN 9599) sees a welcome return to the catalogue for Gerhard’s Violin Concerto, one of his most poetic and alluring scores. It dates from the same period when, as observed by BBC Music Magazine, "he was moving away from the Catalan-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 showpiece tricks."
"His Violin Concerto manages to encompass a variety of influences from Bach to Bartók without a glimmer of pastiche. We hear snatches of Catalan song, glinting strands from Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, but, whatever his borrowings, Gerhard is an elegant craftsman, with his own expansive sense of structure and with bat-like ears for subtlety of sound." Daily Telegraph
The coupling on the Chandos disc is Gerhard’s Symphony No.1, a dark dramatic score which, despite its non-representational athematicism, hints repeatedly at a hidden autobiographical agenda: perhaps his tormented memories of the Spanish Civil War and sense of grief in exile (as suggested by Julian White in the March 1998 issue of Musical Times), or the physical and spiritual aftermath of a near-fatal heart attack in 1952.
"[the First Symphony’s] profusion of invention, both of material and of colour (including in the central Adagio, an orchestral simulation of electronic ‘white noise’) and its swings between tense, uneasy quiet and outbursts of almost uncontrollable violence are a constant fascination; and the huge, contrapuntally complex finale is quite masterly. A disc recommended with enthusiasm." Gramophone
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