Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970)

Recorded last month at Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s, London and first broadcast on Marquee TV on Thursday, February 4, 2021

The surprise, because not billed in pre-publicity, was the opening Dvořák Wind Serenade (Opus 44, for twelve players, including cello and double bass), an elegant/affectionate reading, although Simon Rattle did indulge things a little at times – but better this than glossing over possibilities – and the Finale had a captivating drive and point as well as a grand return of the opening music … however, sound and image (both excellent) weren’t quite synchronised, the aural component arriving first by a couple of seconds.

As it did for the rest of the programme, which continued with (Argentinean) Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes (1953, Opus 23), engaging open-air/exhilarating and lyrical/folksy music – variations and concerto-for-orchestra rolled into one – that first came my way from a Boston Symphony Orchestra RCA LP conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. This LSO account was stylish – the numerous solos well-taken – and intense, leading to a fiery conclusion. This work might be scored for a chamber orchestra but the players were as spread-out as can be in Jerwood Hall – occupying the shop-floor and the gallery – string-players and conductor masked.

The music of Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard, recordings aside, has fallen off the radar, a real pity as these Dances from Don Quixote proved. Without suggesting the complexities and challenges of some of his later music, there is much to unravel in this (1947-excerpted) ballet score (1940, then revised, if not premiered until 1950, in London, using Ninette de Valois’s choreography), sporting an extra layer of writing that also has a contrapuntal rightness to it. Plenty of soulful and atmospheric music, too, realised here with sympathy and drama.

To close, Dvořák’s five-movement American Suite (Opus 98b), composed just after the ‘New World’ Symphony, and full of Old World charm and Slavic energy. It may not be in the league of the Slavonic Dances or the Legends but it certainly has its attractions, not least nostalgic entreaties, cancelled out by the chocks-away Finale. This fine performance seems to have been a first for the LSO, revealed Sir Simon.