2013 GRAMOPHONE and FANFARE reviews

John Gilbert (Performer)

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In JANUARY of 2013 GRAMOPHONE published the following review on the front page of their magazine:

Donald Rosenberg

Gramophone, January 2013

…Kurt Weill’s Concerto for violin and wind orchestra and Jacques Ibert’s Concerto for cello and 10 wind instruments…are well worth hearing in their own right, as well as to place them in context in each composer’s canon.

The Weill bears traces of The Threepenny Opera…in the sardonic moods and lean textures. The violin does its temperamental thing with and against the winds, which are prominent characters in a three-act drama…Ibert’s piece sounds like so many of this composer’s scores, full of jaunty spirit and idyllic lyricism, with the cello as romantic figure conversing with chatty colleagues.

The masterpiece here…is the Berg, which sounds as impassioned, conflicted and intricately layered as ever. Nothing appears to cause anxiety for the Baton Rouge musicians, who dispatch the score’s rhythmic and expressive challenges with handsome aplomb. Violinist John Gilbert and pianist Dmitri Shteinberg are vibrant soloists and the winds perform with cohesive and precise assurance under conductor Timothy Muffitt.

Gilbert is the able soloist in the Weill and cellist George Work brings suave definition to the Ibert. Yet what seizes attention more than the solo lines are the wind parts, a testament to the colouristic skills of the composers and the players’ first-rate artistry. © 2013 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

In FEBRUARY of 2013 FANFARE published the following review in their on-line journal:

Notes and Editorial Reviews

WEILL Violin Concerto 1. IBERT Cello Concerto 2. BERG Chamber Concerto 3 • Timothy Muffitt, cond; Baton Rouge S Chamber Players; 1,3 John Gilbert (vn); 2 George Work (vc); 3 Dmitri Shteinberg (pn) Read more SONO LUMINUS DSL-92161 (Blu-ray and CD: 66:39)

This inventive collection brings together three excellent concertos with wind-orchestra accompaniments, all from the 1920s, all on the edge of the repertoire, but none overly familiar. Inventive, but taxing for the listener. The Weill, for all its virtues, remains one of his more difficult (even unlovable) works, with only a few hints of the spiffier masterworks to come; the Berg is more intractable still. And while the Ibert that separates them is lighter in spirit, it too has moments of gnarliness that may surprise you if you know the composer primarily from the Divertissement and Escales . (The Ibert also features what would count as a snide reference to the Shostakovich Seventh—except that the Ibert was written more than a decade earlier.)

It would all be rough going were the performances not so dexterous. The winds, from the Baton Rouge Symphony, play with unerring focus: Balances are excellent, ensemble (as this music demands) is precise, dynamics are well shaded, and there’s plenty of rhythmic energy (listen, in particular, to the impetus that drives the end of the Weill). These works all inhabit a hazy area between chamber music and traditional romantic concertos—while the soloists are faced with abundant challenges, they’re very much firsts among equals rather than stars of the evening. (This is one reason why, when Isaac Stern took on Berg, he did less well with the Chamber Concerto than he did with the Violin Concerto.) The three soloists here meet that need well—they’re all solid virtuosos with evident interpretive imagination, but they’re all ready to share the spotlight. The pure-toned John Gilbert’s interweaving with his colleagues in the Weill is especially impressive (listen, for instance, to the way he plays against the fluent trumpet of James West in the cadenza portion of the second movement).

Granted, I wouldn’t put any of these performances at the top of the list. Frank Peter Zimmermann’s airy and (to quote Adrian Corleonis) “superbly polished” Weill with Mariss Jansons has more phrase-by-phrase personality ( Fanfare 22:4); in direct comparison, Gilbert and Muffitt seem marginally unvaried. Similarly, this recording of the Berg, like most others, seems slightly stiff compared to the surprisingly warm account by Tetzlaff, Uchida, and Boulez (for a very different reaction, see Jerry Dubins’s review in 32:5). As for the Ibert: The Baton Rouge players are more secure and zesty than the players of the Michael Krein Orchestra, but Jacqueline du Pré’s mercurial personality gives her recording a significant edge. Still, anyone wanting this combination of repertoire should find these performances more than attractive.

Even if the playing were less adept, however, this release would be worth considering for the spectacular engineering. Although this set comes with a standard CD, it’s the Blu-ray that knocks you out: not so much its stereo tracks (although its high-resolution sound is impressive, when heard on its own), but the multichannel versions (5.1 and 7.1). These, like the 2L Tchaikovsky/Nielsen disc also reviewed in this issue, refuse to limit the surround capabilities to reproduction of hall ambience; instead, we find ourselves in the middle of the ensemble. That kind of aggressive placement can easily be gimmicky (shades of London’s Phase Four)—but in music that’s so complex in its polyphony, the choice of perspective adds greatly to our musical understanding by making sure that each line is spatially distinct. A clear example of technology in the service of art. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz

Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - Jan 2013


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