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Roberto Gerhard

Roberto Gerhard`s Violin Concerto

1950. Royal Festival Hall, London
Composer Roberto Gerhard
Conductor Hermann Scherchen
Ensemble Philharmonia Orchestra
Instrumentalist Antonio Brosa
Genre Symphonic concert

Gerhard’s Violin Concerto was begun 1942 and completed not long before he began work on The Duenna. But it was not performed until May 1950, when the Catalan violinist Antonio Brosa gave the première in Florence with an orchestra conducted by Hermann Scherchen. Brosa and Scherchen then brought the work to
London on 19 November, and it is this performance, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which can be heard in this recording.

A revised, shortened version of the score was eventually published in 1960, and this revision has been used in both subsequent studio recordings. This recording of the original version is therefore a notable historical document.
Like the Duenna, the Violin Concerto manages a remarkable conjunction between Spanish idioms – the great violinist and composer Sarasate (1844-1908) is alluded to in Gerhard’s solo figuration – and progressive techniques associated particularly with Schoenberg. Gerhard actually uses the same tone row as Schoenberg’s fourth string quartet (1936) in his central movement. But the work’s richly-textured romantic idiom is closer to Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (1935) than to anything by Schoenberg, while being very much Gerhard’s own, preferring mercurial dramatics to obsessive melancholy.
The first movement (Allegro cantabile, con anima) has a lyrical flow that embraces dance-like qualities, and after a brilliant solo cadenza it is the dance that dominates as what starts as a conventional recapitulation is swept away by new material, marked ‘molto vivace, con spirito’, ending the movement with scherzo-like élan.

The Schoenberg-celebrating Largo is more expansively lyrical, and the main contrasting idea has some particularly imaginative orchestration, as piano, harp, vibraphone and a cymbal trill provide an atmospheric backdrop. It is this material that eventually ends the movement, and Gerhard asks for the finale – Allegro con brio – to follow without a pause. The hint of the Marsellaise in the opening solo flourish, celebrating the liberation of France, might sound tongue-in-cheek, but at the end of the war Gerhard doubtless pondered whether the political situation in his own region would change, and make possible his repatriation. As it happened, it did not.
The Spanish tinge to the finale extends through dance-like materials and more solemn reflectiveness (Poco sostenuto, teneramente), but it was not Gerhard’s way to end in sorrow and gloom. Instead, the concerto’s closing section is an exciting whirlwind of a Presto, linking up generically with the last part of the first movement but trumping even that supremely energetic display in its enthrallingly insistent bravura, the whole edifice suddenly vanishing with a disarmingly downbeat musical shrug.

© Arnold Whittall, 2009

Recorded live at the UK premiere, Royal Festival Hall, London, 19 November 1950

  • Antonio Brosa
  • Philhamonia Orhestra
  • Hermann Scherchen

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