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Anthony Gilbert

...Into the gyre of a madder dance*
Certain Lights Reflecting**
On Beholding a Rainbow
(Violin Concerto)***

RNCM Wind Ensemble/Clark Rundell*

Susan Bickley, mezzo/BBC SO cond. Andrew Davis**
Anthony Marwood, vln/RNCM SO/Garry Walker

NMC D105 [74 mins]

The warmest of welcomes for the latest release of the music of Anthony Gilbert, now 70, and overdue for celebration. Please follow my link to his Endymion Retrospective.

The new CD is a project which has had a long gestation; the composition of the violin concerto On beholding a rainbow took from 1992-1998 to completion, and the recordings here span 1992-2004; reflecting the problems for even a universally admired composer whose works are performed less frequently than those of some of his contemporaries, despite the loyalty of his pupils (over a hundred composer students) and friends from all departments of UK musical life. Perhaps he has been just too busy composing, teaching and serving organisations such as spnm to do focused networking to promote his own music?

I am not going to go into details about each piece because Anthony Burton gives an overview, and the composer's own notes about his works are lucid and informative. The wind ensemble items are each distinctively different; Anthony Marwood revels in the violinistic concerto which is both accessible and complex, one to hear more than once - it ought to get into the repertoire for regular exposure live. The student musicians belie their relative inexperience; no compromise there. Susan Bickley makes a strong case for the orchestral song cycle in which Gilbert sets some striking Australian nature poems; the words are provided and the whole presentation is painstaking and of NMC's highest standard. The intriguing cover image, dedicated to Anthony Gilbert, is by Colin Rose, who has a committed involvment with the world of contemporary music.

GILBERT Dream Carousels; Igoruchki; Quartet of Beasts; Six of the Bestiary; Towards Asavari .
RNCM Wind Orchestra/Timothy Reynish and New Ensemble/Clark Rundell with Peter Lawson (piano) & John Turner (recorder)
NMC D068 [78 mins]

Contemporary composers of the older generations can become temporarily overlooked, however accomplished and original they may be. Anthony Gilbert (b. 1934) is one such, revered as a teacher for his open-minded thinking by Simon Holt (whose NMC portrait CD has been promoted in tandem with this one), and eulogised in the liner notes in An Appreciation by fellow composer David Lumsdaine. This emphasises his avoidance of cliché, originality of musical language and beauty of sound - bold, quirky, focussed, 'it's always on the edge'.

This impressive Manchester based collection of performances, with RCNM students keeping well up with their professional colleagues, gives a good survey of his music from 1978-1992. Towards Asavari is the earliest & perhaps the least listener friendly, a fairly tough four movement piece for chamber orchestra with piano, based on an Indian raga, but not in an Indian idiom. Jorge Borges's beasts inspired 10 light, fanciful pieces here for quartets of wind with piano, and saxophones, respectively. Dream Carousels was written in Australia for Timothy Reynish, a slow piece followed by a scherzando and a toccata, given first by these present players in 1989 and recorded in the RNCM in 1998. Igoruchki is a little solo recorder concerto, Gilbert's tribute to Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments , in five short playful movements. The moto perpetuo finale has the bass recorder demonstrating rapid multiphonics.

Most of the music has strong literary promptings for its titles and they may have played their part in actual composition, who can be sure? There is an abundance of purely musical humour and fantasy, making for an excellent long listen, nearly 80 minutes, and with NMC's production standards, a good bargain too. Gilbert manages all his disparate instrumental combinations with easy aplomb and there are many bright sounds to relish. Hard to describe; hear it instead!

Peter Grahame Woolf (Review from MusicWeb, 2000 *****)

See also my review of the Anthony Gilbert Retrospective, July 2004.


© Peter Grahame Woolf