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Gerhard/Glass/Abril/Loevendie/De Falla/Halffter

Conjunto Ibérico with Elena Gragara

Wigmore Hall, London 18 November 2006

It is common for instrumentalists at music colleges to get together with their peers to form small chamber groups, and you are likely to find clarinet quartets, trombone quartets etc. Sometimes this will happen within orchestral sections, players seeking a group opportunity; the twelve cellos of the Berlin Philharmonic have made several successful CDs.

There are also occasional specialist jamborees, e.g. double basses at the Isle of Man, or an orchestra of thirty flutes enjoyed at Luxembourg

One of the most enduring mono-ensembles has been the cello octet Conjunto Ibérico, founded in 1989 by conductor Elias Arizcuren and based in Holland; we have enjoyed their concerts in Amsterdam and Stuttgart, and now in London, as well as reviewing many of the now dozen CDs in an expanding repertoire of original commissioned compositions and arrangements. The cello is the ideal instrument for this specialised treatment, its compass sufficient to encompass music high and low, and the richness of tone enhanced in group exposure (there are some marvellous moments for cello ensemble in orchestral music, e.g. a favourite passage in Debussy's La Mer).

Not over challenging in this (? first) appearance at Wigmore Hall, their concert gave us a pleasant evening of 20th century music. Mezzo soprano Elena Gragara offered stylish interpretations of characteristic Spanish repertoire, with early Gerhard, and Falla's favourite Seven popular Spanish songs (in not wholly convincing transcriptions by Arizcuren/Escande). The flamenco influenced harmonies in three Lorca settings by Anton Garcia Abril (like Luis de Pablo - who has composed twice for Conjunto Ibérico - a member of the "Generación del 51" who dragged Spain into the world of new music). He produced a rich sound from the ensemble in his 3 Spanish songs and Elena Gragara's characterful voice blended particularly well with the cellos.

A successful transcription for cello ensemble was the third movement of Philip Glass's Symphony No 3, exploiting the instrument's full range of colours and not outstaying its welcome. For minimalist afficionados, this is included in Conjunto Ibérico's latest CD, Glass Reflections [CD KTC 1258] - regrettably the only one on sale after the concert.

The concert ended with a showpiece, Halffter's lengthy Fandago after Soler, which they have played over a hundred times, and chose to part-repeat as their encore for an enthusiastic audience, the hall decently filled for an off-beat concert by a relatively unknown ensemble!

Of particular interest for new music enthusiasts were two Mediterranean Dances composed for Conjunto Ibérico by Amsterdam-born composer Theo Loevendie, in earlier years an internationally known jazzman; Ibérica inspired by Spanish music, and the intricate Zeybeck, evocative of a slow Turkish dance [CD Etcetera KTC 1252].

Simon Woolf & Peter Grahame Woolf

Some of PGW's reviews of Conjunto Ibérico CDs are at http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/cddvd/SpanishCelloOctets.htm
http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2001/Aug01/cellooctet.htm and http://www.musicweb.uk.net/classRev/2000/july00/villa2.htm

See also DVD & CD (Glass, Riley, Donatoni etc)