Wednesday 26 July 2017

Dancing in the Ghetto

Adam Gorb - Dancing in the Ghetto - Prima Facie
Dancing in the Ghetto, Adam Gorb music for large ensemble; Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble, Mark Heron, Timothy Reynish, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic 10/10 Ensemble, Clark Rundell, Manchester Camerata, Mark Heron; Prima Facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 17 2017
Star rating: 4.0

European influences to the fore in music for large ensemble by British composer Adam Gorb

The composer Adam Gorb is Head of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music (his Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall  was performed at JAM's Spring showcase earlier this year, seem my review). This new disc from Prima Facie of Gorb's music showcases the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble, conductors Mark Heron and Timothy Reynish, along with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic 10/10 Ensemble, conductor Clark Rundell and the Manchester Camerata, conductor Mark Heron. The works on the disc are all for large ensemble, Dancing in the Ghetto, Weimar, Symphony No. 1 in C, Serenade for Spring and Love Transforming. 

The opening work on the disc, Dancing in the Ghetto (2008) is intended as the prelude to Gorb's opera Anya 17 but was written as a free-standing work. The title refers to doomed people making merry before a cataclysmic event. The music gives a fair picture of Gorb's style, highly coloured with folkloristic elements incorporated in music which is highly rhythmic and vivid. Listening to the disc, I constantly returned to the influences of Stravinsky in the music, with elements of Britten too.

Weimar (2000) is also for a large instrumental ensemble similar to that of Dancing in the Ghetto with the addition of two wordless sopranos. The three movement work is a vivid evocation of the various musics and styles associated with the Weimar Republic, from the frenetic to the sexy saxophone solo, the piece is full of highly coloured dramatic moments.

Symphony No. 1 in C (also from 2000) deliberately turns its back on the symphonic tradition and the composer describes it as a party-piece for 13 wind instruments (or 12 wind instruments and double bass). The four short but contrasting movements make a nicely constructed rather neo-Classical piece, and here we feel the influences of Britten as well as Stravinsky, and the music sometimes takes on an English character rather than the European influences in the previous two works.

Serenade for Spring (2008) for small orchestra (single woodwind, two horns percussion and strings) combines these influences in another work which seems to evoke both the English pastoral school and Stravinskian neo-Classicism. The final work on the disc is Love Transforming (2013) was conceived as a 75th birthday present for conductor Timothy Reynish and first performed by him with the Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble. A 14 minute piece for wind ensemble that even requires instrumentalist from the ensemble to sing! It is quite an unusual work for wind ensemble, serious and complex with many dark moments and hardly any of the march-like brashness sometimes associated with this repertoire, and the use of off-stage voices and instruments creates some very striking textures.

The pieces all receive fine performances, but unfortunately the notes fail to identify which ensemble is playing which piece, conducted by whom. No-matter, we can sit back and enjoy this journey through over a dozen years of Adam Gorb's involvement with writing for large instrumental ensemble.

Adam Gorb (born 1958) - Dancing in the Ghetto (2008)
Adam Gorb - Weimar (2000)
Adam Gorb - Symphony No. 1 in C (2000)
Adam Gorb - Serenade for Spring (2008)
Adam Gorb - Love transforming (2013)
Royal Northern College of Music Wind Ensemble, conductors Mark Heron and Timothy Reynish
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic 10/10 Ensemble, conductor Clark Rundell
Manchester Camerata, conductor Mark Heron
Recorded between October 2014 and November 2015
Available from Amazon.

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