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Anthony Gilbert - A Retrospective

Purcell Room, London 13 July 2004

Endymion/Quentin Poole (conductor)
Marie Vassiliou
Julien Feltrin (recorders)

Elegy for piano; Long White Moonlight for soprano & electric double bass; O'Grady Music for clarinet, cello & toy instruments; Tino for soprano, clarinet & vibraphone - 1st performance; Spell Respell for electric bassett clarinet & piano; String Quartet No.3 (Super hoqueto David); Igorochki for solo recorder, 2 percussion, cimbalom, guitar & string quartet

Anthony Gilbert at 70 is a revered teacher and a composer of ceaselessly questing imagination, with a prodigious memory - he greeted me by name, more than fifty years on since meeting me as a beardless student and regular visitor to Westminster's marvellous Central Music Library! On the contrary, I had forgotten having previously reviewed NMC D068 which included Gilbert's Igorochki, the happiest choice to have concluded this overlong (they always are!) Endymion retrospective.

John Turner's vastly entertaining Stravinsky-derived commission (most of its material comes from the Symphonies of Wind Instruments) was taken on to stunning effect by a young recorder virtuoso, Julien Feltrin. The spare instrumentation is perfectly judged to allow the recorder to be heard in this playful music, and this is caught in the honest balance of the RNMC recording. Unique, and surely one of the most treasurable new recorder concertos; it should be played everywhere that a cimbalom player can be found!

The other work which I was especially glad to hear again was the astringent third string quartet, premiered in 1987 alongside many commissions based on the Machaut motet Hoqueto David, when Harrison Birtwistle curated the inaugural and best of the South Bank Summerscope festivals, forerunner of today's down-marketed Meltdown. It is included in a CD of string quartets for the 21st century (ASC CD11).

Marie Vassiliou with Corrado Canonici revived the intriguing Long White Moonlight songs premiered c. 1980 by Jane Manning and Barry Guy; Marie has a beautiful voice, even over a wide register, and it is good that there is now another bassist to reflect the impact of Eastern zithers upon Gilbert. Two of the songs were printed in the programme but, as so usual there, the hall was darkened and one had to move under one of the adequate lights to be able to read the programme! Why do they do it? Tino was a foretaste of a cycle of Spanish symbolist love-poems.

Douglas Jarman, who has an analytic article about him in Tempo (October '04 issue) interviewed Gilbert about intuitive aspects of his composing. Listen to R3's Hear and Now on air (we weren't told when), or on line during the week after the broadcast of this concert, to hear Anthony Gilbert talk about his "triggers and eggs" and also at least some of the thirteen Tributes for Tony given at 6 p.m., missed because of an unfortunate clash with another tribute concert nearby, one to Kenneth Leighton as part of the City of London Festival.

© Peter Grahame Woolf