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GERHARD Roberto: Portraits and Horoscopes Libra; Leo; Gemini; Concert for 8; 3 Impromptus   Nieuw Ensemble cond. Ed Spanjaard Largo 5134 [63'33"]

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This is an ideal introduction to Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) for anyone unfortunate enough not to have come across him. He studied in Barcelona with Granados, became a pupil of Schoenberg in 1923, settled in Cambridge in 1939, where he composed his best music. He distrusted analytical notes and his ideal listener was the non-specialist with open ears.

Leo, Libra and the Concert for 8 are written for unusual chamber ensemble combinations which fit exactly the Nieuw Ensemble's unusual line-up, which for this CD includes guitar, mandolin and accordion with more usual instruments. They were featured by the BBC and London Sinfonietta in the 70s, less often more recently. Evocative music, with a succession of ravishing sounds; listener friendly even for those still put off by serialism, which Gerhard uses in a very personal way.

Gemini is for violin and piano, with extra sonorities from the strings inside. The 1950 piano impromptus have Andalusian and Catalan echoes, the third is like some of Schoenberg's piano music, with 'Central European rigour tempered by Iberian warmth' (David Drew/Calum MacDonald).

The Amsterdam based Nieuw Ensemble is one of Europe's finest contemporary music ensembles, and these 1996 recordings are impeccable. Full notes including a year by year biography of this adopted English master. Wholeheartedly recommended.


Peter Grahame Woolf

[See also my reviews in S&H of Roberto Gerhard as featured composer in Musica99 (Strasbourg) and of the Nieuw Ensemble at Huddersfield Festival.]


Peter Grahame Woolf

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