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Arnold GRILLER (b. 1937)
Orchestral Music - Volume Two
Scherzoid (2017) [9:03]
Symphony (2003, rev. 2010) [28:37]
Introduction, Cakewalk and Allegro for piano and orchestra (2011, rev. 2016) [10:19]
Rhapsody Concertante (2004) [21:44]
Emin Martirosian (piano)
Musica Viva Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Walker
rec. 2017, Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio, Kultura. Moscow

The Griller family name is well enough known in older classical circles. The violinist Sidney Griller - and the Quartet that bore his name - was a well-known presence on radio and in classical music shops. Examples of the Quartet’s recorded art include the four Bloch quartets, Beethoven quartets and various British rarities. On Decca 78s, as yet untransferred, they recorded the tunefully bountiful Bax First String Quartet and gave the premiere of Bax's Third, Bliss's Second Quartet and Rubbra's Amoretti. They performed Rawsthorne's Second Quartet and, with Reginald Kell, Wordsworth's Clarinet Quintet.

The composer Arnold Griller (b. 1937) is the son of Sidney Griller (1911-1993). This is the second CD of Arnold Griller's music to be issued by Toccata. The first (TOCC 0424) presented works for chamber orchestra: Ensemble Seventeen; Clarinet Concerto and Distant Villages. This sequel includes four pieces from the 2000s, including Griller’s sole symphony.

The music is heard in first recordings. Griller proves to be a composer of music that remains resolutely under analytical control; Milhaud was his main teacher but that composer's easeful melodious ways are not for Griller. He does not drift into neo-romanticism or minimalism or look backwards much further than mid-period Stravinsky. The music is tonal and has a salt-laden edginess and refuses to let emotions hold sway. Sure, there is room for optimism as well as calming gentle moments but Griller does not surrender to emotions and is chary about letting them in. When Griller embraces dynamic action there is something of the furiously patterned Panufnik about it - middle movement of the Polish composer's Sinfonia Elegiaca and first movement of the Piano Concerto.

The overture-sized Scherzoid (2017) has a quiet maudlin introduction and then concentrates on fast-pouncing patterned angularity. It certainly puts the – necessarily - alert orchestra members through their paces.

This is followed by the whirlingly energetic Symphony which here is tracked in seven sections. The first of these ("With uncertainty") begins in desolate mode (Rite of Spring) but soon immerses itself in cool impatience. Then music that shimmers enters and meditates. This is decorated with gawky brass. A drizzle of angry high notes positively bristles in the Meno mosso although this gives way to a rare melodic inspiration at 1:50 which soon morphs into a purposeful whirlwind. The longest section ("Searchingly") harks back to the first movement but develops into an emphatic melos that moves, without ceremony, into a Presto marked "frenzied". This is typical of Griller's pouncing writing, already experienced in Scherzoid. It's viscerally exciting but cold-blooded, or at least cooling. The final Calmo has the violins, underpinned by healing woodwind, heard in peacefully cycling note-cells. It looks back again to the opening "with uncertainty" but now has a tidal pull towards eternity informed by a shading of melancholy. The effect is like a bridge between Gubaidulina at her most peaceful and Shostakovich at his most quiet and desolate. The music falls gently away into an enveloping stillness.

The Introduction, Cakewalk and Allegro for Piano and Orchestra is a "pocket" piano concerto running to 20 seconds over ten minutes. Its three movements, of increasing duration, proceed bleakly and warily at first. They soon take refuge in a gangling "knees and ankles outwards" Cakewalk. The raucous final Allegro is brittle and makes a virtue out of its flighty awkwardness. The music somewhat resembles the piano concertante works of Malcolm Arnold and Stravinsky.

The final Rhapsody Concertante is in five movements, four of which are distinguished by a crotchet value. A fifth takes the form of a final Presto which shows "minim=108". This work is dedicated to Nelya and Mikhail Vitkin and Shirley and Raymond Wiest. This score is, in effect, a virtuoso concerto for orchestra with colours made more vivid by dividing the string section into ten parts across all five movements. The final Presto again doffs the inventive hat to Panufnik, not in his reverential near silences, but in his explosive rhythmic writing. Otherwise this piece will speak to people who already love the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra.

The performances bear all the marks of superlative skills and elite sensitivity. As for the forward-reaching audio quality, this shows that the engineers have conspired with the musicians to achieve that musical effect. The number of days taken for the recording sessions suggests sedulous attention to getting the music under the skin of the orchestra. What we hear is certainly consistent with that.

The music notes, across 15 pages, are in English only. Unusually they include nine music examples. The notes are by the Canadian composer Douglas Finch, who seems to be a true friend to Griller.

Here is a composer not out for easy victories. Victories are there but they are subtle and hard-won. I would not be surprised if there is a third Griller volume from Toccata.

Rob Barnett



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