GERBER Three Little Duets. Two Intermezzi. Piano Sonata. Duo in Three Movements1. Voices. Variations for Piano. Cocktail Music (Song Without Words) • Steven R. Gerber (pn); 1Gregory Fulkerson (vl); 1Jennifer Rinehart (pn) • ALBANY 1416 (62:21)Read more
Steven R. Gerber has written a number of large-scale works, including acclaimed concertos, but this disc is dominated by the composer’s work in the world of miniatures, even though some of the forms, including a sonata and two somewhat lengthy variation sets, would seem to counterbalance that impression. Yet even in those works, Gerber employs a very spare language that draws the listener in. This is not background music: be prepared to sit down and listen closely; you will be rewarded by a remarkably efficient and powerful expressivity. Gerber’s harmonic palette is wide, with, in the composer’s own description, a tendency towards more tonality in recent works. He describes the Piano Sonata, which was completed in 1980, as transitional in this respect. It is an excellent, compact work, given strength by Gerber’s very ability to pick and choose his techniques while assembling a cohesive musical composition.
The introduction of a second instrument in the Duo in Three Movements does not, rather surprisingly, add much weight to the composer’s voice. The texture of this piece is stunningly terse; there are long stretches where the two instrumentalists do not play together, but rather trade off snatches of dialogue. Gerber seems to be challenging himself to condense his language to the sparest possible physical condition, while still having something to say. This is even more evident in many of the selections from the 1970 Variations, which the composer describes as “my least favorite work on the CD.” Well, I liked it. The writing is refreshingly clean and clear. While he is at it, a certain sly underbelly informs his musical personality. Gerber is exceedingly clever, but not, to my ears, for the sake of being so.
I would go so far as to suggest that the true miniatures of this recital, the Three Little Duets and the Two Intermezzi, show off the composer as a sort of contemporary American Satie. The last piece on the CD puts a bit of an exclamation point on this notion. Gerber’s sense of humor is overtly manifested in his 1989 Cocktail Music, which is a salon ditty in search of a lounge lizard vocalist.