In concert – Josephine Lappin, Salomon Orchestra / Edmon Colomer – Gerhard’s Soirées de Barcelone, Falla & Turina

Josephine Lappin (piano), Salomon Orchestra / Edmon Colomer

Turina Ritmos Op.43 (1927)
De Falla Noches en los jardines de España G49 (1915)
Gerhard (ed. MacDonald) Soirées de Barcelone (1936-9, comp. 1995-6)

St. John’s, Smith Square, London
Sunday 21 May 2023

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

The Salomon Orchestra celebrates its 60th anniversary this season with three concerts of real ambition. The second saw a collaboration with Edmon Colomer, whose advocacy of Spanish music in general – and Roberto Gerhard especially – was evident throughout this programme.

His second ballet, Soirées de Barcelone was also Gerhard’s largest project before the collapse of Spain’s republican government forced him into exile. A piano suite from the 1950s was the only realized portion of a work otherwise known through an orchestral suite made soon after the composer’s death. At least until 1996, when musicologist Malcolm MacDonald finished the orchestration of the whole ballet and so enabled its broadcast during Gerhard’s centenary. MacDonald’s edition was duly receiving its first public performance in the UK this afternoon.

Set in the Pyrenees at the St John’s Eve festivities, with rituals of fire purification and fertility as its scenario, Soirées… falls into three substantial tableaux where the prevalence of Catalan folk songs and dances is imbued with a motivic density and orchestral virtuosity anticipating Gerhard’s maturity. The first of these, The Crowd, features three of the items from the suite and finds this score at its most immediate; the second, Eros contains the deepest and most imaginative music – notably the sombre initial Notturno and vividly evocative Apparition of Eros. Emotional intensity falters slightly in the third tableau, The Weddings, but there is no want of impetus as the work builds to its culmination in an eloquent Sardana that resolves scenic and musical issues, then a Coda which sees the piece through to its effervescent close.

At just over 50 minutes, Soirées… is a tough assignment for any orchestra, so all credit to the Salomon for rendering its many intricacies with unfailing commitment and no little panache. It helped to have Colomer at the helm, his understanding and empathy being evident through the care over phrasing and frequent textural finesse. Only on occasion were tempi marginally under-speed to accommodate the exacting rhythmic syncopation though, as he steered a fine reading to its close, there was little doubt as to the sheer power and imagination of this music.

A dependable pianist in the Gerhard, Josephine Lappin impressed as soloist with Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, whose pervasive concertante writing often benefitted when heard from the rear of the platform. A steady yet flexible tempo for In the Generalife brought out some mysterious and even ominous undertones, while the alluring lilt of Distant Dance ensured this headed seamlessly into In the Gardens of the Sierra de Cordóba with its interplay of energy and eloquence before the performance ended in a mood of gentle rapture.

Few of Joaquín Turina’s orchestral works are revived these days, which seems more the pity as this composer was arguably the deftest Spanish orchestrator of his generation. Subtitled a ‘Choreographic Fantasy’, Ritmos made for a scintillating curtain-raiser – its six continuous sections demonstrating unforced musical logic as well as an appealing overall atmosphere. The Salomon players rendered it with infectious enjoyment, reminding one that such pieces – indeed, those in this concert as a whole – are all too infrequently heard in UK concert halls. Colomer provided an extensive spoken introduction to the Gerhard, hopefully a work he will yet record in its entirety. He rounded off this memorable concert with a breezy medley from the Zarazuela, notable for principal flautist Roy Bell taking the solo spot with his castanets.

You can read all about the 60th anniversary season and book tickets at the Salomon Orchestra website Click on the names for more on conductor Edmon Colomer and composer Roberto Gerhard – and for an article on this concert visit the composer’s publisher Boosey

In concert – London Sinfonietta / Edmon Colomer: A Catalan Celebration


Gerhard Libra (1968)
Faula (2017)
Aequae (2012)
Januaries (2017)
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