Gerhard Libra (1968)
Figuera Faula (2017)
García-Tomás Aequae (2012)
Illean Januaries (2017)
Gerhard Leo (1969)
London Sinfonietta / Edmon Colomer
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Wednesday 1 December 2021
Written by Richard Whitehouse
A celebration of Catalan music, this concert by the London Sinfonietta also commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Roberto Gerhard – which, falling in January last year, had augured a number of events substantially curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant lockdowns. At least it had been possible to reschedule this programme – Gerhard’s work framing three recent pieces by contemporary composers whose music, if by no means beholden to that of their predecessor, was demonstrably influenced and even enhanced by it.
Of these three composers, Joan Magrané Figuera (b1988) was most audibly in the modernist lineage. Faula (Fable) unfolds continuously, its four strands of material being akin to levels of activity – exuding a nervous anticipation, ferocious interaction, static intoning, and a deft animation – present in varying combinations for a process which did not so much evolve as play out across its allotted time-span. More arresting was Aequae (Equal) by Raquel García-Tomás (b1984) – its ‘equality’ embodied in six parts, each of two-minute duration, that drew variety as well as ingenuity of response from its ensemble – with a subtle emphasis on those similarities arising unbidden from the emergence of identical motifs in differing contexts. By comparison, Januaries by Lisa Illean (b1983) felt relatively moribund with its concentration on a continuity that, if not static in its timbre or texture, evoked an atmosphere which started then ceased as though a photographic image not susceptible to real change or intensification. The phrase ‘monotonously beautiful or beautifully monotonous’ inescapably came to mind.
Qualities that could never be applied to Gerhard’s output in general or that of his final decade in particular. Works for ensemble are numerous from this time, yet it made sense to focus on those Astrological pieces which, written in the wake of his masterly Fourth Symphony, were also the last he completed. Both are structured as continuous entities alternating between the extreme of stillness and movement common to the music from his maturity. In the case of the ‘chamber concerto’ that is Libra, the concept of balance feels everywhere apparent – not least its six players interlocking in a range of sub-groups that attain equilibrium on both formal and expressive levels. While it pursues a similar trajectory, the ‘chamber symphony’ that is Leo is intentionally less cohesive in design – the confrontation within its larger forces pushing such constraints to, but never beyond their limits. Both works, moreover, feature an epilogue that, with their gently undulating motion and focus on a folk-inflected melody of exquisite poise, bring into accord their musical concerns as surely as those star-signs of Gerhard and his wife.
Music which has lost none of its affective capacity during the more than half-century since it appeared, and how apposite they should be played by the ensemble that gave their world and European premieres respectively. The London Sinfonietta sounded no less committed than its forebears on pioneering accounts with David Atherton – for which Edmon Colomer, his long-time advocacy heard in numerous performances and recordings, can take due credit. One can only hope it does not take another 50 years for this music’s intrinsic worth to be recognized.
For further information on the concert, click here For more information on the composers, click respectively for Roberto Gerhard, Joan Magrané Figuera, Raquel García-Tomás and Lisa Ilean. For more on Edmon Colomer, click here