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Sense and Sound: Gerhard's Fourth Symphony

  • Calum MacDonald

The publication and recording of one of the principal works of Gerhard's last years is a double event of major importance. Although Gerhard wrote so many notable works in the final decade of his life that one hesitates to call the Fourth Symphony the greatest of them, it is wholly representative of a composer who is coming to be recognized as one of the foremost of our time. If full recognition has not yet been accorded him, it may be because of the superficial but widespread assumption that the works of his last period are largely demonstrations of brilliant textural invention whose structural raison d'être can be felt only ‘intuitively’ (and thus, of course, needn't be explained). We are asked to take even the audible structure (or as some commentators seem to imply, the lack of it) on trust.

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1 The Symphony is published by Oxford University Press at £4·50. The recording—sponsored by the British Council and issued on Argo ZRC 701—has been made by the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra under Colin Davis. The performance is extremely exciting and completely satisfying apart from a few details (e.g. the faulty dynamic relationship between the two clusters of string harmonics at fig. 10). The Symphony is coupled with a good performance of the Violin Concerto (soloist, Yfrah Neaman), which is an earlier and lesser work, but still one of the outstanding 20th century essays in this genre. Various cuts are made. The largest one, in the scherzo ‘annexe’ to the first movement, makes for a distinct gain in formal shapeliness; yet I wonder if the reasons dictating it were purely aesthetic: this is a long work to fit on one side of a record. There is also, in the finale, a puzzling omission of the soloist's part in harmonics between figs. 107 and 110.

2 For a welcome exception, see Anthony Payne's review of The Plague in Tempo 69 (1964).

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  • ISSN: 0040-2982
  • EISSN: 1478-2286
  • URL: /core/journals/tempo
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