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American Classics - Gerber: Gershwiniana, Notturno, Piano Trio / Nikkanen, Smith, Buechner

Release Date: 06/30/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559618   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Lin Cho-LiangCyrus BeroukhimKurt NikkanenSara Davis Buechner,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GERBER Gershwiniana. 1,2,3 3 Folksong Transformations. 1,4,5 3 Pieces. 2 Notturno. 1,4,5 Elegy on the Name “Dmitri Shostakovich.” 1 3 Songs without Words. 1 Fantasy. 1 Duo. 1,5 Piano Read more Trio 1,4,5 Kurt Nikkanen (vn, va); 1 Cho-Liang Lin (vn); 2 Cyrus Berkoukhim (vn); 3 Brinton Smith (vc); 4 Sara Davis Buechner (pn) 5 NAXOS 8.559618 (64:39)

American composer Steven R. Gerber (b. 1948) is a resident of New York City and was educated at Haverford College and Princeton University; he studied with Robert Parris, J. K. Randall, Earl Kim, and Milton Babbitt. Gerber’s orchestral music appears on previous releases on the Chandos, Koch, and Arabesque labels, and has been reviewed quite positively in this publication (24:2 and 24:3). This new Naxos release contains chamber music for three or fewer players from the years 1967–2001. Gerber notes in the booklet that this spans the majority of his compositional career to date. Like the vast majority of composers of his generation, Gerber’s early music was composed in an atonal idiom, and in the 1980s and 1990s, his language began to take on more traditional, tonal characteristics. The previous CD releases have focused on later (“tonal”) pieces, so this album is a chance to hear a bit of his earlier work.

The first two (very brief) pieces on the album are based upon pre-existing source material. Gershwiniana (1999) is a suite for three violins in which each of the three movements consists of transformations of motives and fragments from different pieces by Gershwin. The second, Three Folksong Transformations (2001), applies the same principles to American folk songs in a tiny piano trio. In both works, the use of the source material is quite oblique, but the resulting works are very appealing entirely on their own terms.

Three Pieces (1997) for two violins consists of three, simple movements of contrasting characters. Both Notturno (1996) for piano trio and Elegy (1991) for viola are darkly lyrical single movements that recall the moods of late Schnittke or middle-period Górecki. Written for the wedding of composer Michael Dellaira, Three Songs without Words (1996) are very brief miniatures for violin arranged from Gerber’s earlier settings of Yeats for violin and soprano.

The disc ends with three pieces from the late 1960s: Fantasy (1967), Duo (1969), and Piano Trio (1968). All three are vastly more thorny than any of the preceding music and show far less personality/unique style than Gerber’s later works. Fantasy is the least-interesting piece on the disc, resembling a host of other forgettable unaccompanied violin solos from the same era. In the booklet notes, Gerber states that Duo was inspired by the dialectic of Elliott Carter’s second string quartet, an important influence on him at that time. The Piano Trio was the composer’s first large-scale work and he describes it as “a young man’s piece . . . lacking emotional and technical restraint.” Though it goes on too long, it is not without appealing sections, particularly in the slow second movement.

With the exception of Piano Trio, all of the pieces on this release are quite short, and show an admirable ability to avoid overextension of the musical ideas’ potential. Students looking for short contemporary pieces to add to string recitals would find this disc of particular interest (especially the most recent pieces). The recorded performances are all excellent, and the sound is clear and appealing. Although the discs of Gerber’s orchestral music provide a broader and more ambitious introduction to his work, this release is certainly recommended to those interested in hearing well-written American chamber music.

FANFARE: Carson Cooman
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Works on This Recording

Gershwiniana by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Lin Cho-Liang (Violin), Cyrus Beroukhim (Violin), Kurt Nikkanen (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1999; United States 
Length: 5 Minutes 5 Secs. 
Pieces (3) by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Lin Cho-Liang (Violin), Kurt Nikkanen (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; United States 
Length: 7 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Notturno by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Sara Davis Buechner (Piano), Brinton Smith (Cello), Kurt Nikkanen (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; United States 
Length: 5 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Elegy on the Name "Dmitri Shostakovich" by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Kurt Nikkanen (Viola)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991; United States 
Length: 4 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Songs Without Words (3) for Violin solo by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Kurt Nikkanen (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1986; USA 
Length: 4 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Duo for Violin and Cello by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Kurt Nikkanen (Violin), Brinton Smith (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; United States 
Length: 10 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Trio for Piano and Strings by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Sara Davis Buechner (Piano), Brinton Smith (Cello), Kurt Nikkanen (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968; United States 
Length: 17 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Folksong Transformations (3) by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Sara Davis Buechner (Piano), Kurt Nikkanen (Violin), Brinton Smith (Cello)
Written: 2001; United States 
Length: 3 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Fantasy for Violin solo by Steven R. Gerber
Performer:  Kurt Nikkanen (Violin)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1967; USA 
Length: 5 Minutes 35 Secs. 

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