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Confident artistry

Music by Gerard Schurmann -
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'... clear, direct, economical and excellently focussed ...'

Gerard Schurmann: Violin Concerto; Concerto for Orchestra. © 2002 Chandos Records

It is over twenty years since the issue on record of Gerard Schurmann's colourful and vigorous Six Studies of Francis Bacon, possibly the work he is best known for, and it is that orchestral virtuosity that surfaces again in his Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for their centenary season in 1996.

Schurmann works slowly, and one searches in vain for an extended series of large-scale works that might be expected of a composer now almost eighty, and yet his careful approach to creating just the right structure and colours, together with an extremely self-critical personality, whilst limiting his output notably, does make his work all the more telling when it arrives. And the Concerto for Orchestra quite definitely arrives [listen -- track 1, 0:03-1:00]! Nor does it disappoint at any time through its five movements.

It is, in places, unashamedly reminiscent of Bartók (his Hungarian mother, a pianist, had been a pupil), but there is too much individual Schurmann here to allow the occasional mid-European fragrance to disturb. The writing is clear, direct, economical and excellently focussed -- there are no incidental distractions, no effects for their own sake.

All is musically secure; a composer who knows exactly what is to be said and, in terms of the orchestra, exactly how to say it with skilful lucidity. Its movements explore contrasts of mood: the first an explosive allegro, 'Summa Ferri' (a heart of iron); the second a portrait of the exotic nocturnal moonbird; the third thoughts of war drawn into a lament; then an Aubade; and a finale that summarises all the earlier materials. It is both exuberant and moving, and a great pleasure to to be in the company of such confident artistry.

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Copyright © 4 October 2003 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK


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