Gerber Music in Dark Times [UK premiere]
English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods
Recorded at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, 2 December 2021
by Richard Whitehouse
The English Symphony Orchestra has been assiduous in promoting Steven R. Gerber (below), not least with a release of string-orchestra arrangements of his chamber music from Darron Hagen and Adrian Williams (Nimbus NI6423), and now this online performance of Music in Dark Times.
Written to a commission by Vladimir Ashkenazy and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, who gave the first performance in March 2009, this is very much a synthesis of traits from its composer’s maturity and, in contrast to the largely interiorized world of his chamber output at this time, a demonstrably public statement with resonances beyond its immediately American context. Opening with an expanded version of the Fanfare for the Voice of America, written in the aftermath of those events of 9/11, it continues with a Pavane featuring the diaphanous interplay of brass and strings, then by a Dance of Death whose tarantella-like underpinning adds greatly to its malevolence. This, in turn, finds contrast in a Dead March which builds in a steady crescendo towards a climax left ominously unresolved. It remains for an Elegy, scored only for strings, to provide a measure of solace in music that reaches back to pieces by composers such as Piston, Carter and Barber; after which – a full orchestral Fanfare brings this sequence to a close which, while far from affirmative, offers at least a glimmer of hope.
Although scored for sizable forces – including triple woodwind, five horns and four trumpets – Music in Dark Times is resourcefully as well as atmospherically orchestrated so that salient details are always heard to register. The ESO players are audibly at home in this piece, while Kenneth Woods directs with assurance music he clearly – and rightly – believes in. Hopefully it will be issued on a future release of Gerber’s orchestral work (including the still unrecorded Second Symphony), but for now this latest ESO online offering can be well recommended.
This concert can be accessed free from 14-18 October 2022 at the English Symphony Orchestra website, then through ESO Digital by way of a subscription. Meanwhile click on the names for more on the English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods – while information in the orchestra’s Steven R. Gerber release can be found here