Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970)

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

Gerhard and Dvořák are rare concert bedfellows, although Simon Rattle has previously done so,, and he took this composer combination further in Berlin.

Two sides of Roberto Gerhard’s creativity occupied the concert’s first half. Dances from Don Quixote (from the 1940s, a ballet score), the composer’s Spanish side – “Falla on steroids” (Rattle) – busy, detailed music, also languorous, that paints pictures and creates characters, as well as keeping the ear engaged in both invention (as syncopated as it is dramatic, as beguiling as it is intense) and orchestration (not least a prominent part for piano), given an outing of distinction here, if ending too soon.

Whereas Symphony No.3 (Collages) from 1960 (the composer now in Cambridge, England) is an aggressive, dissonant, percussive (requiring six players including timpanist) and eerie creation, a large orchestra supplemented by an electronic soundtrack, one surprisingly sophisticated (avoiding sci-fi cliché) for something produced sixty years ago when the medium was in its relative infancy (spearheaded by Varèse), and with music that demands much of performers and listeners, of its time yet looking beyond it, challenging and rewarding, whether brassily strident or eloquently angular, slow/impassioned, scurrying/complex, structured – twenty well-filled minutes precisely realised by the Berliners and expertly balanced with the sound-effects emanating from a bank of speakers.

Dvořák’s five-movement American Suite (Slavonic sensibility meets Native US melodic catchments) is a favourite of Sir Simon’s, two recent London performances of it (the above webcast and a Barbican Hall account): full of nice tunes and engaging rhythms, here luxuriously sounded if subtly dynamic and shaded, and shaped with affection, dancing and striding, heartfelt. Scherzo capriccioso is by far the greater work, however – fiery and poignant – nonchalantly introduced by Berlin horns and suavely progressed, the cor anglais-led Trio sensitively phrased, but what a shame Rattle glossed over the Trio’s repeat, diminishing the scale of the whole, although the harp-heralded coda had plenty of energy.

Gerhard Symphony 3; Frederik Prausnitz’s BBC Symphony Orchestra recording for HMV.

Gerhard Symphony 4 (New York); undated concert performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis