Toccata Classics CD
Violinist Alyssa Park and pianist Mikhail Korzhev have assembled a program of music by Gerard Schurmann, including two works for violin and piano and two for piano alone. Toccata has supplemented this musical offering, in its now familiar way, with a generous program booklet, this time featuring a biographical essay by Schurmann's wife, Carolyn Nott, an explication of the music by Schurmann himself, and notes on the performances by Park and Korzhev.
The program opens with the five-movement Duo for Violin and Piano (at more than 25 minutes, the longest work on the program), which Schurmann’s notes identify as the first piece for which he received a commission after his arrival in the United States in 1981. The first movement, “Intrada,” establishes his at times dissonant and spare, and at times lyrical and opulent, melodic and harmonic style. Parks and Korzhev engage in effective dialog, with fey arpeggiated passages in the piano often answered lyrically by the violin. The “Ditirambo” adapts this hybrid style to music at once more rhythmic and more declamatory, sporting passages that could almost have been borrowed from Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. Parks plays, as those who have followed her career after she won a prize in the 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition will recognize, with a lush tone production, enhanced here by keen rhythmic acuity, sharp musical penetration, and flexibility of expression. The “Notturno” that follows continues in the vein of the most reflective passages of the “Intrada,” with an allusive middle section in which Park and Korzhev create a sense of searching reflection that returns at the movement’s end. The fourth movement, a “Burlesca,” includes moments of relaxation amid its skittish and generally manic frenzy. The duo concludes with a brief mediation, “Alba,” that begins with a cadenza for violin similar in atmosphere to the “Aurora” from Eugène Ysaÿe’s Fifth Solo Violin Sonata. Throughout, Korzhev sounds sympathetic to Schurmann’s almost Impressionistic milieu, marked by brief, isolated arpeggios, and Park matches him in these passages as well as in the more dissonant, thrusting ones; in both, the two instrumentalists maintain rapt communication, making the near half-hour pass in what seems only a matter of minutes.
Schurmann describes Leotaurus as a set of variations written for pianist Tamás Vásáry, highlighting contrasts between the astrological signs Leo and Taurus. Passages range from the animated through the mysterious. Korzhev brings an intoxicating rhythmic drive to the third variation without obliterating its colorful melodic ornament. The fourth variation blends strong statement with silvery passages, while the fifth probes deeply into the darker side of the theme (drawn, according to Vásáry, from the composer’s Piano Concerto from 1972–73), as does the sixth variation. The seventh emerges as strongly contrapuntal, and the eighth as flashing kaleidoscopic textures and timbres. The somber ninth variation leads to the 10th, which brings the piece to a vigorous and highly satisfying conclusion. While neither of these compositions seems to make, with the strength and rigor of musical argument, overt gestures that ingratiate them with listeners, they still forge that connection, by dint of continuously shifting textures and the inherent interest of their musical development.
The four-movement Autumn Leaves, from 2007, the program's most recent composition, exercises a different kind of appeal in its more forthrightly nostalgic lyricism, in which melodies in the first movement that leap over wide ranges but still maintain their sense of songful legato (and, of course, the Affekt that the composer identifies in his notes and that his wife connects to strong feeling for his earlier life in Holland and England). Park and Korzhev bring to the Arietta that follows the same hushed misterioso that they revealed in the Duo. The slow section in the succeeding Allegro contains some of the most deeply affecting passages of all, and the final Moderato brings the work to a gentle conclusion. Its resolution in a major triad creates an almost inevitable sense of closure—more effective in that regard, perhaps, than the similar open sounds at the ends of some works by Paul Hindemith.
Schurmann based Contrasts (from 1972–73), written for John Ogden, on shifting summer weather, divided into four movement: “Cumulonimbus,” “Summer Rain,” “Becalmed,” and “Undersun.” These provide imaginatively descriptive passages (consider the rainfall in the second movement) in an idiomatic pianistic language that—at least in Korzhev’s performance—sound virtuosic without losing sight of the composer’s essentially calm lyricism, to which the whole returns, as in the third movement, after more strenuous moments. Even the fleetingly toccata-like last movement repeatedly finds this Zen-like center before ending in a flurry.
While only tonal in a highly attenuated sense, Schurmann’s musical language never leaves listeners without clearly identifiable musical processes upon which to fasten their attention, and music so involving tends to pass very quickly—Schurmann’s certainly does. In Park’s and Korzhev’s poetic yet strong-minded performances, captured in clear recorded sound, the music reveals a great deal of fancy despite its rigor, and its shifting moods should provide a beguiling hour for almost any listener.
'... the performances are excellent. Park's warm and solid tone makes one want to return to the Duo and Autumn Leaves. As for Korzhev, he projects strength, atmosphere and the ability to tangle even the knottiest passages. The engineering is honest and unobtrusive.'
Raymond S Tuttle
International Record Review
Music & Vision Magazine
Gaudiana - Symphonic Studies
'... Schurmann's Gaudiana is dedicated to his wife Carolyn and reveals his admiration for the Catalonian architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), and in particular for the unfinished cathedral La Sagrada Familia - indeed the composer has stated that on a recent visit he was unexpectedly moved by the building's innate sadness and prescient drama, the interior of which he has likened to an enormous empty carcass. This is not to imply Schurmann's music is programmatic or that one need be familiar with the architecture which inspired it, for this piece weaves a powerful symphonic argument, being a 25-minute set of symphonic studies, falling into six movements. However, the long slow opening chorale scored for strings alone, with its impassioned, almost elegiac, theme announced by cellos near the outset, seemed to form a telling musical invocation of the atmosphere the composer describes.
Percussion heralds the start of the next movement and the entrance of the rest of the orchestra with music of a more forceful nature, which at times features the rhetoric and volatility associated with the composer in works such as the early orchestral piece Six Studies of Francis Bacon, although in more refined vein. Yet another movement features very elegant string writing, imbued with delicate patterning in the other sections of the orchestra which betrays the influence of gamelan music which Schurmann imbibed in his Indonesian childhood. By contrast a discernible influence with a more local flavour is music suggestive of the Sardana, the Catalonian round dance. The final movement is marked by energetic music which leads to series of climaxes, before returning to the dramatic yet quiet string music of the opening (underscored by timpani), to end ominously on a fading string chord.
The three initial performances were conducted with the infectious energy and aplomb so typical of Rumon Gamba and greeted most enthusiastically by the audience: the composer being visibly moved to be twice called to platform and so warmly received by Gaudí's compatriots.'
'Gaudiana by Gerard Schurmann delineates with symphonic mastery the capricious architecture of Gaudí. It contains an abundance of orchestral devices within a solid musical construction.'
El Periodico de Catalunya, Barcelona
'Gaudiana, Symphonic Studies by Gerard Schurmann, inspired by the works of Antoni Gaudí, displays an intense expressivity within a sincere style, not clearly tonal but with tonal centres. The work begins with a long, slow introduction by the string section, after which the percussion introduces the second section, in which the whole orchestra participates.'
El Pais, (Edicion Nacional), Madrid
'The Symphonic Studies, Gaudiana, 25 minutes in duration, is a composition inspired by the work of "the most famous Catalan in the world." The piece, however, is intentionally not descriptive, but rather captures the feelings of the works by this modernist genius, bringing them to life in the music.'
'Gaudiana, by Schurmann, a piece which resonates the Catalan dance sardanas, is gripping for its skilled orchestral writing.'
Juan Carlos Moreno
CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA
'Gerard Schurmann admits his Concerto for Orchestra was unavoidably penned in the shadow of Bela Bartok. Yet Schurmann's Concerto offered only a few hints of Bartok-inspired images. The work's skeletal frame is borrowed outright. The remainder is highly original, developed in a fusillade of sound that pulls its thunder from full-bodied string sections and a rounded palette of solo instruments. ...This, overall, is an exhibit of compositional mastery and a mighty contribution.'
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
'It's not often that a Pittsburgh Symphony subscription audience rises to its feet and cheers the composer of a new work, bringing him back to the stage for numerous bows. That's what happened at the world premiere of Gerard Schurmann's Concerto for Orchestra. Schurmann's Concerto for Orchestra is colorfully scored, based on substantial material, varied in its five movements...This was everything a symphony concert should be.'
'I love it violinistically because it is singing in character.'
'This concerto brims over with purposeful, rich melody. It deserves a virtuoso like Ruggiero Ricci to perform it; the remarkably difficult solo part sang and flowed with liquid ease. The cadenza, not an empty ornament but a profound synthesis of the preceding movement, would almost stand as a piece by itself. Just as remarkable was the effective use of single percussion and harp notes in soft passages, and the prominent role given to the orchestral strings.'
The Musicial Times
'The work has two long movements, one of considerable weight and drive, the other with a theme and variations of ravishing delicacy. It allows the soloist the usual trills, dramatic double-stoppings and operatic leaps from one extreme register to another. The overall appeal derives from the melodic beauty which enriches its pages. Certainly I was aware of an enlivening continuity and impact throughout.'
The Daily Telegraph
'Gerard Schurmann's impressive and hugely entertaining Concerto for Orchestra is fairly recent (1996: written for the centenary of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) but it is astonishing that the 25-year-old Violin Concerto has had to wait so long for its first recording. The two works have many features in common, the most audible and attractive of which is sheer fertile inventiveness: Schurmann seems to be able to write endless sequences of striking, absorbing and dramatic new ideas. As you listen, however - and this adds to rather than diminishes the pleasure - you realise how very tautly both works are argued and how skilful he is at developing and transforming ideas.
'The two-movement Violin Concerto is a disarming demonstration of this, and both my review and Martin Anderson's excellent booklet note will very slightly spoil it for you by revealing that the beautifully tender theme of its finale - even more songlike and lyrical in its first variation - will eventually and almost imperceptibly transform itself into a re-statement of the germ motive that underlay most of the very varied first movement. The whole Concerto, indeed, is full of ideas, and most of them are idiomatically violinistic rather than showily virtuoso - it was written for Ruggiero Ricci's golden jubilee as a performer. Other melodies recall the gamelan music Schurmann heard as a child - he was born in Java of Dutch and Hungarian parents - and something of this is still present in the Concerto for Orchestra alongside a still further matured orchestral mastery. Even more than the Violin Concerto this work has all that it takes to become genuinely popular: vividly dramatic gesture (the imperative fortissimo chords at the outset, the muttering choir of drums that launches the third movement), bold and striking melodies (each movement has at least one), emotional depth (that third movement has as climax an eloquent lament) and plentiful demands for orchestral splendour. The composer, an experienced conductor (not only of his own music), secures fine performances; Olivier Charlier evidently fell more than a little in love with Schurmann's violin lines in his Concerto; the BBC Philharmonic play splendidly and are admirably recorded.
Gramophone Awards issue
Gerard Schurmann has one of the most unusual and diverse pedigrees of any English composer. A pupil of Alan Rawsthorne and resident in London from the start of World War II, Schurmann (like his older countryman Henk Badings) was born in the Dutch East Indies, then a colony of the Netherlands, which he once served as a cultural attaché and where he also conducted at Hilversum Radio for a number of years. But most surprisingly, for the past two decades, he has lived primarily in Los Angeles!
This exceptionally cosmopolitan background is reflected in the professional sophistication and assured craftsmanship of his multi-dimensional muse.
Written for Ruggiero Ricci, the 1974 Violin Concerto is an excellent example of Schurmann's initial style - a kind of rugged neo-Baroque manner embellished with serially-divided flourishes.
In the 1996 Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony, a wholly new aspect of Schurmann's development comes to the fore. With its aggressively flashy opening and its dextrous exploitation of orchestral groups and timbres, this score marks a significant loosening up of his language, where a new emphasis on drama and color (which was always implicit in his earlier efforts) makes for a much more immediately accessible experience. This piece, like the contemporaneous Cello Concerto ("The Gardens of Exile"), is bursting with genuine warmth and personality. It is one of the most seductive orchestral showpieces of the 1990s.
As a seasoned conductor, Schurmann gives these two very complex scores extremely flavorful realizations, and violinist Olivier Charlier is fully up to the mark in taking on the considerable technical challenges of the concerto. Given Chandos's state-of-the-art sonics, this makes for an outstanding release affording an important composer greater exposure.
Paul A Snook
Gerard Schurmann's recent Concerto for Orchestra (1996), commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony, is an entirely new, original and arresting experience. He brings a wholly contemporary American pulsating drive, a richness of colouring and sour-sweet harmonic imagery which recalls his teacher, Alan Rawsthorne.
The technique is as brilliantly assured as the idiom. Note the breathtaking recapitulation, in the final movement, of the first movement's subject-matter, complete with stretti and metric modulation. The work is in some ways a salute to a vibrant and proud American industrial city (shades in this of Hindemith's Pittsburgh Symphony). Mighty pleased the Pittsburgh Orchestra should be.
Schurmann's Violin Concerto (1978) was slow in gestation: the composer thought long and hard about issues of balance between a large orchestra and an instrument whose delicate and intimate hue can be so easily swamped.
The secret seems to be, on one hand, dialogue with orchestral tuttis and on the other, complementary colouristic accompaniment for the soloist calculated so as not to obscure the high tessituras. The Concerto is cast in two large movements of more than 15 minutes each.
The magnificent second movement, in variation form, is at first like an evolving nocturne, growing ever more mysterious and oriental before gradually embracing previous material and resolving all quests cogently and affirmatively. This is a most satisfying release, very thoughtfully directed by the composer from the podium and with Chandos's usual top-notch production quality control.
What is most striking about these two substantial works - the Violin Concerto, composed for Ruggiero Ricci in 1978, and the Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Orchestra in 1996 - is the vivid and delicate command of orchestral colour, and the craftsmanship of the writing. The five-movement orchestral concerto is hugely energetic, the two-movement violin work more reflectively lyrical.
Gerard Schurmann is a musical cosmopolitan who perhaps has never been wholly assimilated wherever he has lived. Son of a Dutch sugar-planter father and a Hungarian mother who had studied piano with Bartók, he was born in Java, where gamelan music left an imprint on his musical language that can be sensed to this day. After service in the RAF, as Dutch cultural attaché in London, and as conductor of the radio orchestra in Hilversum, he lived for a long time in the UK, but has been resident in Los Angeles since 1981. Not that he has been unsuccessful in his craft, as this CD (the first of a Schurmann series) will testify. He handles large forces with skill and absolute technical command. He studied with Alan Rawsthorne, and his own music displays something of his teacher's elegance and pungency; perhaps also its emotional reticence.
Schurmann's Violin Concerto, completed in 1978, is in a mildly unusual two-movement form, the second a set of variations. Certainly 'violinistic' to the core, it was written for the golden jubilee of Ruggiero Ricci, its first interpreter. This is beautiful music, beguilingly scored and continuously inventive.
The much more recent Concerto for Orchestra, a commission for the 1996 centenary of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, resembles in its five-movement form that of Bartók's masterpiece in the same genre, but the debt is less than even Schurmann seems to think. Written in his early seventies, with a sense of hope and release after recovering from prostate cancer, this is a vigorous, direct, brightly coloured orchestral showpiece that nevertheless makes a genuine emotional impact - not only in the punchy outer movements but in the deeply felt and deeply expressed slow movement, subtitled 'A Spirit in Mourning'. By the composer's own testimony, this movement arises from thoughts of war into a spirit of lament, and the disturbing coda, with its minatory drum attacks, is probably the most remarkable music on the disc. Schurmann entitles his first movement 'Summa ferri' ('The gist of iron'). With its brazen sforzato march-rhythms, it evidently evokes a vision of the Pittsburgh steel mills (shades therefore of an earlier Pittsburgh commission, Hindemith's Pittsburgh Symphony). Those rhythms are recalled and developed, along with much else, including gamelan tintinnabulations, in the synoptic and optimistic finale, entitled 'Le Grand Concert'. Altogether this is an effective and highly enjoyable work - surely one of the most distinguished recent additions to a genre that's burdened by more than its fair share of meretricious display pieces. Schurmann, a conductor of long experience, directs what seems a wholly committed performance of requisite bravura from the BBC Philharmonic. The entire disc is beautifully engineered, pretty well in the demonstration class as regards warmth and immediacy.
International Record Review
... the Concerto for Orchestra quite definitely arrives! Nor does it disappoint at any time through its five movements. 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. It is both exuberant and moving, and a great pleasure to be in the company of such confident artistry. The Violin Concerto was written for Ruggiero Ricci and took four years in the making, appearing for the first time in 1978 celebrating Ricci's golden jubilee ... It is gratefully written, allowing the violin to play its natural singing role. It is in two movements; the first an 'introduction and allegro' design; and the second a set of finely made variations on an exquisitely lyrical theme.
Music & Vision
Schurmann's output is distinguished, and this important new issue was well worth waiting for. Both works are fine compositions indeed; the Concerto for Orchestra is, I have no hesitation in saying, a masterpiece. Written for Lorin Maazel and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra it is a stunningly successful amalgam of those qualities which mark this composer's work: principally, that very rare quality of being able to actually think in purely orchestral terms. This music is, above all, supremely natural in terms of sound and therefore of expression.
The Violin Concerto, written for Ruggiero Ricci, is another remarkably fine score, in two movements. This moving and fascinating music receives a splendid performance by Olivier Charlier, with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Schurmann himself. The recording is flawless.
Schurmann's distinctive voice combines the gestural and structural cohesiveness of the German tradition with a sensitivity to instrumental colour more redolent of the French school. Lyricism and espressivo is well to the fore, highlighted by a number of stratospherically challenging moments for the soloist ... The theme and variations second movement sounds particularly magical in Charlier's sensitive hands. It would be amiss not to applaud the stunning virtuosity of the BBC Philharmonic in the Concerto for Orchestra, glowingly captured by the Chandos producers.
Schurmann's orchestration is dazzling - a combination of French fastidiousness and American boldness. The playing, both from the BBC Philharmonic and violinist Olivier Charlier, is magnificent - polished, assured and full of focused energy - and the recordings are vintage Chandos. The opening of the Concerto for Orchestra is a splendid Technicolor assault: it's music that makes sure you sit up straight and take notice. Schurmann is clearly master of his means, and his imaginative scope is broad.
BBC Music Magazine
Gerard Schurmann openly acknowledges basing his 1996 Concerto for Orchestra on Bartók's -- deliberately emulating the latter's orchestration and following his five-movement layout with two large movements flanking three of intermezzo character. Schurmann's finale also is a rip-snorting, jet-propulsion extravaganza. Of course, Schurmann's modernist and tonally free musical language is a long way from Bartók's.
The entire concerto is an exploration of the infinite varieties of orchestral timbres, and it frequently generates tremendous energy. As an orchestral showpiece, it's impressive, due in no small measure to the BBC Philharmonic's powerful, exacting performance under the composer's direction.
In his booklet note Schurmann contends that violin concertos work best when the solo part is to some degree based on tonality, though it would be disingenuous to describe his 1978 Violin Concerto as "tonal" (unless you mean in the same way Berg's Lulu is "tonal"). The first movement's three-note main theme is easily defined, but the violin's dissonant, angular ruminations soon take us far away from the opening's alluring atmosphere. Schurmann's solo writing challenges the protagonist without indulging in sound effects for their own sake. He also succeeds at making the violin clearly heard even during tutti passages (which are all brilliantly effective), a skill he learned from studying Bartók's Violin Concerto.
Olivier Charlier performs the solo part smartly, showing a remarkable ability to keep his playing focused amid the near-continuously shifting accompaniment. As conductor, Schurmann turns in another committed rendering of his own work, and Chandos' recording presents the music in a somewhat large yet detailed acoustic. This is definitely worth hearing, though its appeal primarily will be to the modern music fan.
Victor Carr Jr
Looking for excellent new contemporary orchestral works?
GERARD SCHURMANN: Concerto for Orchestra, Violin Concerto. A splendid pair of works which will appeal to collectors of the 20th century English tradition or orchestral music in general. A vivid, exciting orchestral spectacular!
Records International Catalogue
Francis Bacon's study
of Gerard Schurmann
SIX STUDIES OF FRANCIS BACON
'In Six Studies of Francis Bacon, which received its first performance at the Dublin Festival last night conducted by the composer, Gerard Schurmann has brought off an entirely successful translation into orchestral sound of the impact of the painter who was his friend for several years. Not only is the range of Bacon's own art from the grotesque and savage to a kind of uneasy repose conveyed in vivid outline, the composer has added an extra dimension in his own response. Through the medium of a large orchestra deftly controlled, and some impressively rich harmonisation, Schurmann suggests emotions ranging from shocked awe to comedy.'
'Gerard Schurmann we have known and admired as composer and conductor here in recent years, and this new work of his is a piece of superb technical skill and craftsmanship which fully deserved the prolonged ovation of the discerning audience. As a composer he knows what he wants to say and as a conductor he knows how to elicit this from the orchestral forces at his command. This was fully realized and the impact was brilliant. It fully deserved the encore.'
The Irish Press
'The highlight of the Dublin Festival concert was surely the first performance of Six Studies of Francis Bacon by Gerard Schurmann, conducted by the composer. Our own Symphony Orchestra was honoured to have been chosen to give the work its first airing. Colourful and poetic, the music made a deep impression, and the obviously enamoured audience demanded an encore of one of the movements.'
Dublin Evening Press
'Shrewdly observed, as audaciously conveyed in orchestral strokes as those of the painter's brush, the instrumental textures are varied, bizarre and poignant. The impression is of a lively imagination restlessly at work.'
'In Six Studies of Francis Bacon, Gerard Schurmann has produced a striking musical counterpart to the painter's work: his shapes, high-lighted colours, swift movement, violence and strange calm - all seem echoed in a remarkable score which should travel.'
The Sunday Times
'The quickly changing moods and blazing flash of colors are most persuasively balanced in this volatile and delicate collection, in which Schurmann's mastery of the orchestra is everywhere apparent. Maazel and the ensemble gave this work, and the Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements, brilliant, crisply detailed performances.'
The Akron Beacon Journal
'Not literal in the sense that Schurmann tried to imitate the paintings, they nevertheless were close enough so that there was no doubt of their intent. Splendidly coloristic, provocative in mood, the six - Figures in a Landscape, Popes, Isabel, Crucifixion, George and the Bicycle, and Self-Portrait - were carefully slewed to limn Bacon's surreal technique. There was controlled passion, intensity, and even humor (in "Bicycle") as evidenced in the paintings. Maazel & Co. gave the difficult work a ringingly bright performance, handling color, interest and excitement extremely well. Maazel in turn, was extremely pleased at the reception his work received, particularly that for the Schurmann work, for which the Thursday night crowd outdid itself, relatively speaking, in its appreciation.'
The Cleveland Press
'While slavish musical depictions of paintings run the risk of appearing stilted, Schurmann's collection makes its imprint through subtle and bold orchestral colors. There are delicate washes of sound, many created by marvelous use of percussion instruments, as well as torrential statements that suggest the painful expressionism of the subject matter, such as the cataclysmic "Popes" and driven "Crucifixion".
There's also humor up Schurmann's sleeve in the fifth painting "George and the Bicycle" in which the speedy figures come to grief and police sirens come to the rescue.
Maazel led the work with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1981, and his performance last night once again was crystalline in texture and powerful in impact.'
The Pittsburgh Press
'An adventurous week devoted to a leading figure - it has been Tippett, Lutoslawski, Carter in the past - the Royal Academy of Music offered it in the service of Gerard Schurmann who, by tradition, attended all the events...... Six Studies of Francis Bacon received a vigorous and skilful performance from the RAM Orchestra under John Georgiadis. Each movement of the set attempts to render in tones a particular Bacon canvas (Bacon, a friend of Schurmann's, painted him in return), and they all succeed rather well. The imaginative appeal of this work is like that of a harsher, latter-day Enigma Variations.'
The Sunday Times
THE GARDENS OF EXILE
'Magnificent playing by the BSO and young cellist Peter Rejto helped the work, of which they gave last night the world premiere, score a huge success. In fact, in an ideal world, where such music got regular hearings, it might find popularity......Use of the orchestra was brilliant, particularly the masterly percussion effects, echoing Dr. Schurmann's childhood acquaintance with Javanese orchestras.'
Bournemouth Evening Echo
'The Royal Academy of Music took advantage of a welcome visit to the UK during March by the distinguished British composer Gerard Schurmann, who now resides in California. Schurmann was in Britain for the first performances of his new Cello Concerto, but before that, the RAM hosted a Schurmann Festival which enabled audiences to hear some of this remarkably interesting composer's works of the last twenty years or so during a series of concerts which reaffirmed the growing belief that in Gerard Schurmann we encounter a composer of the first rank.
..........A week or two later came the world premiere of Schurmann's Cello Concerto "The Gardens of Exile", which was also broadcast. The soloist was Peter Rejto, in three performances with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Schurmann has created an extraordinarily fine and imaginative composition - lasting just about 30 minutes, and in one movement - which makes a profound impact: indeed, so sure is his touch, so original and distinctive his approach and musical character, that there is very little that one need comment upon to commend the piece, other than to make an urgent plea to the intelligent music-lover to lose no time in hearing the work should the opportunity arise.
The most striking formal surprise is the increasing tension surrounding the long-delayed entry of the solo instrument: over seven minutes go by before it is finally heard and then, having as it were "grown" or evolved from the proemial slow orchestral music, it naturally and immediately assumes a quite dominant role, flowering and impressing itself more and more upon the entire fabric and texture of the music until we follow its every phrase, gesture and paragraph as though we were in the presence of a noble orator. The Gardens of Exile is indeed a serious and impressive composition. The composer was honoured with truly magnificent performances by Peter Rejto and the orchestra, and it is difficult to see how this work could have been better premiered; make no mistake, Gerard Schurmann has added significantly to the modern cello concerto repertoire. Let us hope this vital composer's forthcoming BBC concerts will provide an added spur to his admirable reputation.'
'The Guildford Festival are to be congratulated this year for commissioning Variants from Gerard Schurmann. His new work is compact, ingenious and thoughtful and it should provide ideal fare for small orchestras.'
'The title signifies that the five sections are different aspects of a six-note chord and a series, rather than variations on a theme. The work has Mr. Schurmann's typical lyricism and his typical ability to make the characteristic shapes of our time into the sort of true music that speaks to the heart and senses.'
The Irish Times
'Schurmann has enviable gifts as a composer: craftsmanship tempered by self-criticism; an ability (one feels) to produce on paper the music he envisages in his mind; a distinctive yet gimmick-free personality.'
'Tautly constructed, shapely in the proportions, disposition and contrast of its five component sections and scored for a Mozartian orchestra, it should prove a useful piece.'
The Sunday Times
'Schurmann deserves credit first of all for producing a thought sequence cast in five continuous movements, with the main weight concentrated in a searching Adagio. Tension is then relaxed in a livelier, orientally tinged variant upheld by a bold diatonic tune, before a return to the opening material. The craftsmanship is most telling in its economy and directness. There is no redundant note or instrument.'
'Cleverly constructed contemporary music scored for the classical chamber orchestra with skill and a keen ear for tonal effects. It is tough, sinewy and even brittle at times, with many remarkable sonorities.'
'In last night's performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall Gerard Schurmann's Variants seemed a "tour de force" of orchestral sonority, as well as being an engaging and inventive display of different perspectives on its fundamental substance.'
The Financial Times
'Concert audiences will welcome Schurmann's crusading zeal, and, I hope, the flashing heavyweight bravura solo piano part so perfectly tailored to Mr. Ogdon's special accomplishments - there is plain, appealing melodic writing too, and delicate coruscating rapid decoration, also much to this pianist's taste. The Concerto's two extended movements contain much diversity of mood, closely interwoven.
There are impressive textures and ideas in the second movement, often profitably developed. The rapid middle section here is brought off with real sparkle and flair.'
'The Concerto falls into two main movements and is of imposing dimensions. From the open piano cadenza to the final presto Mr. Ogdon's fingers and pianistic stamina are fully exercised. The second movement begins with a rather ornate Adagio which leads to the Scherzo section of the Concerto, a clear-cut Presto in double rhythm. Mr. Schurmann has achieved clarity in the scoring throughout, nicely balancing the weight of the piano part against the orchestra in ensemble passages.'
The Sunday Times
'In particular the cadenza that opens the first movement and, uniquely, reappears towards the end, contains distinguished material.'
The Daily Telegraph
'A Concerto in two movements that commands the utmost technical expertise. The composer explores the contrasts between the piano and orchestral timbres in a distinctive conflict of energy to generate great excitement.'
PIERS PLOWMAN - Opera-Cantata in Two Acts
'Three Choirs Festival
Felicity Lott (sop.), Sarah Walker (mezzo), Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (ten.), Norman Welsby (bar.) with the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and the RPO conducted by John Sanders in Gloucester Cathedral on August 22, 1980
A stirring two-act opera-cantata that deserves far-reaching appeal to choral societies. In a direct, modern, tonal idiom, clean, vivid orchestration supported gloriously rich chorales, sustained dramatic outbursts and soaring lyrical lines to which the soloists responded sensitively.'
The Daily Telegraph
'It is most refreshing to hear a Three Choirs first performance of a choral work in a style independent of the influence of Walton and Howells and with a quality to make further hearing more likely than the majority emerging from the festivals of recent years. Such was Piers Plowman by Gerard Schurmann. He bases his own text on William Langland, and with its gentle allusions it repays considered attention in its own right. Musically a fresh voice is heard, one not afraid to sing singable tunes, not overloaded by heavy accompaniment. Much of the most grateful writing is allotted to the soloists and displayed lively dramatic sense and authority as the moral conflict (symbolized perhaps in the polytonality of some sections) was developed until resolved in the apotheosis. Some exciting choral passages, such as the vigorous jousting episode, a striking build-up of tension in the second act, and inventive use of tuned percussion, are further features of a piece that promises to be a valued addition to the repertoire.'
'The most substantial item was the first performance of Gerard Schurmann's Piers Plowman. The music is colourful and tactfully written for the large choir. It provides much that is rewarding to sing and that must be the main function of new works written for Choral Festivals.'
'Gerard Schurmann's Piers Plowman was the outstanding success. Such a plan anticipates writing with a strong descriptive sense and a flair for characterful contrast and this just about sums up Schurmann's powerful answer. The solo writing is lucid and lyrically felt, and the orchestral contribution tense, colourful and responsive to situation in a way that betokens a theatrically aligned mind. But it is in the choral passages that Schurmann is at his most expressive, and here he achieves something harmonically colourful, alternating between the rhetorical and the quietly beautiful, and evolving a complete musical canvas of all the emotions which motivate Langland's poem. Piers Plowman is a work of practicability and quick communication.'
The Musical Times
'A brand new two-act Opera-Cantata Piers Plowman. It was entirely appropriate for the typical English choral society SATB forces, and yet suitably demanding on its professional soloists. Violent and dynamic, this powerful score is full of richness of coloration and construction. The music is highly atmospheric, at times magical and vitriolic, with the composer juxtaposing blocks of texture and sonority, integrating the soloists' often lyrical and attractive lines with forceful attack or ethereal halo of choirs.'
'William Langland's text falls into two parts, each containing at its core a disputation. In the former, the issue is over man's earthly obligations; in the second, the pictorialized Crucifixion-Joust reflects the struggle for man's very survival and salvation in the face of the threat from Antichrist. Schurmann's piece is tersely conceived and boldly executed, with sharp transitions, curt phrases and graphic poetic images. Schurmann moulds his own vibrant language from the first moment when the harp paints onto the canvas the six-note "Piers-Salvation" motif, a sort of musical Jacob's ladder from which much derives.'
'As in many of his earlier works the composer reveals himself as a musical dramatist of tremendous inventive power. Who, I wonder, could forget his spine-chilling sound picture near the beginning of the work, or the frenetic duel and "the shedding of blood" which seem almost to take physical shape before our eyes. There is tenderness in "Love is Weal and Love is Woe" there are the dream-like sequences, the influence of plainchant when Conscience declares "All are equal in death", and the music of affirmation and resolve when Faith urges: "Follow me in the lands to espy him". It is a testimony to the composer's deft handling of the vast forces at his disposal that he rarely allows his often extrovert and percussive orchestration to obscure the vocal line. Altogether, Piers Plowman is a work of stunning virtuosity and dramatic power.'
The Press Group
CHUENCH'I - Song Cycle (high voice and orchestra)
'... exquisitely conceived, ravishingly beautiful both in the vocal line and infinitely subtle orchestral accompaniment'
'In these songs the vocal line explores the nuances of the Anglo-Chinese text with a minute subtlety of rhythm and cadence reminiscent of Benjamin Britten at his best, whilst the scoring shows tremendous invention. Sung by the Dutch soprano Ank Reinders it was an immensely moving experience.'
'Gerard Schurmann's hauntingly beautiful Chuench'I where the composer's delicate and evocative tonal effects are stunningly realized through a discipline that is by no means difficult to appreciate. Charmingly and tellingly sung by Hazel Holt, with a touch at the end of sad resignation that told not only of the end of Spring, but also of a passing of a dear experience. This is certainly the best modern score that the Harrogate Festival will hear.'
The Yorkshire Post
'The composer has caught beautifully the delicate shadings of the poems in a score rich in colour and widely varied in texture; the writing for woodwind, harp and percussion is especially striking.'
The Western Mail
'Broadcast from the Harrogate Festival, I found Gerard Schurmann's Chuench'i most impressive, and it was beautifully sung by a soprano (Hazel Holt) whose voice had a full-throated contralto richness. The fine contrast between the expressively melismatic and mainly unserial vocal lines and the orchestral accompaniments, which were more obviously influenced by serial techniques, made a refreshingly undogmatic effect, an effect that was enhanced by the pithiness of forms that were always brought to a close by varied imaginative touches.'
THE DOUBLE HEART - Cantata SATB
'In five main sections, the work takes its cue from Andrew Marvell's "Dialogue between the Soul and Body", and this duality is reflected in the way the voices tend to pair off, or build up from two-part motifs. The musical language is gratefully laid out for voices. It was sung with obvious enjoyment and assurance.'
'.......came the astringency of Gerard Schurmann's The Double Heart, the first performance of a BBC commission. It sets with skill and feeling some thoughtfully compiled texts by Andrew Marvell in a choral idiom.'
The Sunday Times
'Schurmann's new piece The Double Heart is a 20-minute setting of words by Marvell, beginning and ending with extracts from Dialogue of the Soul and Body. It was both haunting and sensuous, particularly in the first of its five sections and in passages for solo voices later.'
DUO FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO
'Last night at the Library of Congress, two virtuoso musicians, violinist Earl Carlyss and pianist Ann Schein captivated the listeners. The undisputed highlight of the exceptional program was the first performance of Schurmann's Duo for Violin and Piano, commissioned by the duo. Carlyss, a member of the Juilliard Quartet since 1966, and Schein who champions twentieth century composers, played this provocative, muscular music with impressive technical expertise and artistic fervor. Divided into five related movements, Schurmann's work is cyclic, derived from the theatrical elements of 17th Century Italian poetry.'
J. Kenneth Townsend
The Washington Post
QUARTET NR. 1 FOR PIANO AND STRINGS
'So involved and involving, so carefully honed was the playing of the new work that it sounded as if it had been in the Quartet's repertoire for years. It is an impressive piece which ought to overcome the timidity of concert-promoters and audiences by reason of its lucidity, compelling dramatic force and, above all, its musicality.'
The Daily Telegraph
'Schurmann's meticulously crafted, darkly elegiac piece, is possibly the first viable addition to the repertory since Copland's 1950 Quartet.'
The Los Angeles Times
SIX SONGS OF WILLIAM BLAKE
' That Schurmann is an outstanding instrumental and orchestral writer is well-known: that he is equally an inspired song-writer is perhaps becoming familiar only gradually. Yet the song-cycle "Chuench'i" (1966), with which the concert opened, is surely a masterpiece, its response to the Chinese texts (as translated by Arthur Waley) remarkable for the delicacy with which he conveys the eastern source without any self-conscious orientalism, and for its deeply moving portrayal of emotional development. The piano writing is brilliantly conceived in terms of the instrument, but the vocal part is equally natural in its dramatic lyricism. In "Six Songs of William Blake" (1996), he has adopted a simpler, more diatonic manner, without losing the deep sense of purpose and response to the character of the writer, so that the music is Blakeian just as the earlier songs are imbued with the spirit of Chinese poetry. These Blake songs are concerned with the passage of time, expressed through music of great power and impact yet at the same time a marked economy of means.'
The British Music Society Newsletter
'Schurmann has long been known as a master of the orchestra, on the podium as well as at his desk, but latterly has been increasingly drawn to chamber music, with a Duo for violin and piano, two piano quartets and a trio for clarinet, cello and piano from the past two decades. This quartet suggests he should have been at it a lot sooner: it is a tightly argued, directly communicative work, thoroughly idiomatic in its use of quartet-texture.'
'One could hear that - for all the passion of the Chilingirians' performance - there's much more to come alive once they've played the work in. That such deeper layers of meaning can be sensed points to the richness and subtlety of much of the writing; what was immediately obvious was that it shares the same youthful energy that characterizes its composer.'
'The Chilingirian Quartet gave a compelling vision in a United States premiere of the string quartet of their countryman, Gerard Schurmann. This lyric/dramatic work is compact and engaging, and holds the listener through a tight narrative and stunning musical strokes. Its moods change abruplty; it can be tortured, elegiac, stoical, darkly comic, poetic. One wants to hear it again, perhaps with an even broader range of colors. The composer was in the audience and acknowledged a strong response.'
The Los Angeles Times
Gerard Schurmann with John Ogdon