HK Gruber photo by Jon Super
Colin Currie (percussion), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds (Prom 5)
Duration: 28 minutes
BBC iPlayer link
The Gruber starts at 3:46 on the programme, with commentary beforehand
What’s the story behind the piece?
In an interview with Arcana, Colin Currie revealed the piece to be a memorial to David Drew, who in 1976 was appointed director of publications at the leading music publisher Boosey & Hawkes. Drew became known principally for his work revitalising the output and reputation of the composer Kurt Weill. In his obituary of the director, composer Alexander Goehr wrote for the Guardian how “he prepared scores, travelled Europe and America promoting the works, was instrumental in forming the Weill Foundation (1973) and not only changed, if not created, the public perception of the composer, but contributed to a sea-change in the development of composition in the second half of the 20th century.”
These works included Die Sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins). Weill is a composer close to HK Gruber’s heart – and Gruber became an established composer on the Boosey roster.
Currie told Arcana about how, “The piece itself is about thwarted feelings of desperation and loss. It confronts bereavement in an angry and passionate way. It is a violent piece, and an unhappy one too – but it is also extremely lyrical and tender. The person, the subject, is clearly missed – but it is not easy to put into words.”
The Radio 3 broadcast talks of how the performance parts ‘verge on the impossible’ – and not just for the soloist!
Did you know?
Gruber sang with the Vienna Boys’ Choir as a child – and went on to play double bass in the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
The immediate reaction to this piece is that it will need more than two hearings to fully come to terms with the music within! It is a substantial piece of work, a work of many colours – using the multitude of percussion to the limits of its potential.
A cold emptiness is immediately evident at the beginning, the marimbas in prominence early on, as the size of the structure becomes clear. This is a slow building piece, in keeping with Gruber’s concept of it as a procession – and there are a few signposts that became clear on the first hearing.
At 8’40” in the program link there is a notable change as softly oscillating woodwind offer some consolation, then the brass have more thoughts about 11’32”, the orchestra gathering itself for a powerful onslaught towards the end of the piece – but the end is quiet.
To be honest I did rather lose the thread of the piece from halfway but I suspect that is a ‘listener fault’ rather than anything Gruber has done! Hence the need for more than one further listen.
It should be pointed out the performance standard seems to be incredibly high, despite what Currie was saying about the difficulty!
Where can I hear more?
A good next port of call is BBC Radio 3 program CD Review, who explore recordings of Gruber’s music here – which gives you the ideal opportunity to hear snapshots of his music along with the thoughts of others.