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Posted October 1, 2010
On the evidence of this typically entreprising Chandos release Steven R.Gerber (Washington DC, 1948 ) is one of the most interesting new voices in symphonic music to have come my way in quite a while. In the beginning I was a bit skeptical, as the name was completely unknown, and some of the little info I could find were not exactly promising (I'm sorry, but to have been a Milton Babbitt student is not a plus, in my view). But then my penchant for musical adventures took over, confiding in Chandos' usually high artistic/technical standard and..with a little help from Chandos' art director: I know it's silly, but I found their artwork for this release highly enticing. Indeed, lately Chandos covers are uniformly marvelous. Some people may find them over-the-top, even gaudy, but I think they represent a nicely updated approach to the ''colorful'' 50's-60's tradition (think about RCA's Living Stereo ) and they are a good counterbalance to the dry, cooler-than-thou look of, say, Nonesuch (beautiful at first, but you're not likely to look at them twice). One has to buy cd's for the music, of course, but a nice cover helps, doesn't it? Trying to describe somebody's music is always very hard, especially about a new composer, so I apologize in advance if I will be sketchy in describing my impressions and, above all, for resorting to comparisons with other composers' styles. I don't want to diminish Gerber's individuality as a composer,though. Actually the more I listen to this cd the more I find this composer has a voice of his own. First of all this is not music for those who think that ''dark'' and ''serious'' are bad words: the overall impression is of music made of heavy, utterly dramatic gestures. Resorting to a chromatic parallel, I would say it's music colored in black, silver and metal blue. Other reviewers have rightly underlined the Russian connection in Gerber's music, but if Shostakovich's shadow (minus the bitter irony) surely hovers, there are an integrated eclecticism and bold rhetoric manners which are entirely American. Not that refinement is lacking : despite the big gestures the orchestration is finely multi-layered, un-bulky. It's music that gave me a strong ''cinematic'' feeling. As Gerber himself points out in the booklet, he aims to write abstractly, and he succeeds, but my personal response to the music was one made of broad, dark vistas, of something dramatic going on. I used the word ''cinematic'' intentionally. In the 3-movement Symphony (the best piece, in my opinion) there are passages recalling Bernard Herrmann's most brooding moments and others where John Barry's ''flowing'' string writing is in the background. There are also moments, like the beginning of the last movement, where I found a nice touch of Minimalist rarefaction. Despite the general tragic tone, I found it finally uplifting, like life's troubled achievements. Dirge and Awakening is more a grandly styled overture than a symphonic poem, featuring a central crescendo-cum-march that wouldn't be out of place in a Miklos Rozsa score. Similar in approach and even more satisfying is the Triple Overture, where I found particularly interesting the way Gerber treats the three solo instruments (piano, violin and cello) in order to form an unified voice, almost a composite instrument interacting with the full orchestra. This piece's forward momentum shows off well Gerber's preference for majestically implacable ostinato rythms, usually carried by the strings with a pounding percussion base. I enjoyed the Viola Concerto less, not because the music isn't good, but because L.A.Tomter's viola tone isn't really suited to my taste. His prowess is not in question, but his actual sound often seems grating. The performances are otherwise excellent: everybody involved seems to be really in touch the the music, and the unknown (to me) Russian orchestra really comes out well. I only find astonishing that this music does nWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.