Quartet of Beasts
Six of the Bestiary
Towards Asavari 2
John Turner, recorder*
Peter Lawson, piano 2
RNCM New Ensemble/Clark Rundell
RNCM Wind Orchestra/Timothy Reynish
Up to now very little of Anthony Gilbert's varied output has been available
in commercial recordings. This is a rather curious situation since Gilbert's
music is not without its champions. A mere handful of works are available
so far: Nine or Ten Osannas for chamber ensemble (NMC D 014), Beastly
Jingles for voice and small ensemble (NMC D 025), the String Quartet
No.3 Super Hoqueto David (ASC CS CD 11 - BMS News 86) and two short
pieces written as 80th birthday tributes to David Cox and Ian Parrott
respectively. This is why the present release is most welcome for it brilliantly
shows that the neglect of Anthony Gilbert's music has nothing to do either
with the quality of the music or its accessibility (or lack of it).
The earliest piece is the piano concerto, in all but the name, Towards
Asavari, completed in 1978. The piece, much admired by David
Lumsdaine, is based on a Spring morning Raga Asavari "along with its associated
poetry and paintings, and [the composer] attempted to recapture in Western
terms the energy and imagery of the whole" (Anthony Gilbert). The composer
did not attempt to write Indian music, though he admits that "only ghosts
of the Indian techniques" have been called in. The piece is also an attempt
to look for a somewhat different way of confronting a solo instrument with
other groups of instruments. Towards Asavari is a beautiful work that
vastly repays repeated hearings. This recording of it was well worth waiting
The other concertante piece in this collection is the recorder concerto
Igorochki completed in 1992 and written at the request of John Turner
who is the soloist in the present performance. The title has a twofold meaning:
'igorochka' is a Russian word meaning "a little thing to play" whereas the
piece is also intended as a tribute to Stravinsky who died twenty years
previously. The work is scored for a small ensemble of percussion (mainly
metal instruments), cimbalon, guitar and string quartet. There is much
playfulness here but also a great deal of imagination, invention and subtlety.
A worthwhile addition to the 20th century recorder repertoire.
Dream Carousels (1989) for wind orchestra was intended as a fiftieth
birthday present for Timothy Reynish who conducted the first performance
in 1989 and who conducts the present performance again with the RNCM Wind
Orchestra. This piece in three short movements was written when Gilbert was
working on the orchestral song cycle Certain Lights Reflecting to
poems by the Tasmanian Sarah Day whose words also inspired Dream
Carousels. In this Gilbert joins with a number of contemporary composers
in revisiting the medium of the symphonic wind band (previously known as
"military band"). By so doing he managed to look afresh at the medium and
to find new ways of writing for wind band while eschewing cliches of all
kinds (ancient and modern). The three constrasting movements are full of
imaginative scoring and again much subtlety in handling the orchestral forces.
Among the presents he received on his fiftieth birthday Gilbert received
a book from Jane Manning and her husband Anthony Payne, in which Borges writes
of an ancient Chinese encyclopaedia in which the animal races are broken
down into fourteen categories. This book prompted Gilbert to compose what
I might refer to as his "Beast Trilogy" : Quartet of Beasts, Beastly
Jingles and Six of the Bestiary. In this trilogy another facet
of Gilbert's music is much in evidence and one which is often absent in
contemporary music: humour. Quartet of Beasts (1984), written for
the very Poulenc-like combination of flute, oboe, bassoon and piano, as well
as Six of the Bestiary (1985) for saxophone quartet are short suites
of sometimes very short movements "that sometimes take less to play than
the title does to read" (Anthony Gilbert). In these as in the delightful
Beastly Jingles (1985), which forms the central part of the triptych,
Gilbert displays a lighthearted sense of humour which I for one find most
refreshing. These colourful pieces teeming with invention are Gilbert at
his most attractive and his most accessible.
This most welcome release has really much to offer and is unreservedly
recommended for it pays Gilbert a well-deserved, if belated, tribute and
also sheds considerable light on Gilbert's compositional achievement.
To conclude I will simply quote from David Lumsdaine's appreciation printed
in the insert notes: "The five works on this disc are all vintage Gilbert.
You'll find here elegance balanced by humour, fantasy sharpened by logic,
compassion informed by clarity; above all, an inventive imagination which
reveals our familiar world in new and unexpected lights".
I wish I could have written this myself!