Review warmly recounts Late Music's 'Anthony Gilbert Celebration Concert'

A concert dedicated to the celebration of the life and work of Anthony Gilbert took place on 2nd December 2023 at York Late Music. UYMP would now like to share some extracts from Paul Conway's recent account of the recital in Musical Opinion magazine. The programme featured five of Anthony Gilbert's works, alongside music by Nicola LeFanu, David Lumsdaine, David Lancaster, and other Yorkshire-based composers. Performers Jonathan Sage (clarinet), Nina Kümin (violin), and Kate Ledger (piano) gave what was described in the review as "a sequence of compact and heartfelt tributes".

"Kate Ledger began proceedings with an acutely sensitive rendering of Nicola LeFanu’s A Postcard and a Letter, for piano, two musical salutes to the concert venues, in Belfast and Catalonia, respectively, where they were premiered. The opening Postcard (2006) unfolded in a succession of brief phrases, some in the manner of a hushed aside, others with the confidence of a firm statement. Enriched by impulsive tempo fluctuations, the more expansive and flowing Letter (2008) had a casual, conversational manner, richly embellished with trills and delicate passagework. Kate Ledger’s command of the keyboard was such that the scores’ technical challenges were completely overcome, granting the listener freedom to focus on the music’s character and the composer’s expressive intent.

"Anthony Gilbert’s pithy, one-minute piece, Jugalbandi Blues, for bass clarinet (2006) was written in memory of the distinguished Shehnai player Ustad Bismillah Khan, who, in later life would perform duos with the great sitar player, Ustad Vilayat Khan, events called ‘jugalbandi’. The score takes the form of a a duet for one player, presenting a dialogue between the melodic outlines of two different, lamenting ragas. Alert to every dynamic gradation, Jonathan Sage subtly suggested the individual character of each raga, while expertly maintaining the music’s overarching narrative.

"Nina Kümin presented a fresh and lively account of Nicola LeFanu’s Prelude after Grinling Gibbons, for violin (2018). Inspired by the ‘King David’ wood carving by Grinling Gibbons and an associated motet by Orlando di Lassus, this spirited, substantial piece had the expressive variety and impact of a dramatic soliloquy. Nina Kümin’s natural, unforced way with the music complemented its predominantly exuberant, directly communicative character.

"Kate Ledger found an ideal combination of incisiveness and dry wit in her sharply effective characterisations of David Lumsdaine’s gestural and laconic Six Postcard Pieces, for piano (1994). Dedicated ‘to Tony Gilbert with admiration and affection’ and alluding with considerable style and point to various musical forms, these droll missives were brilliantly dispatched. Anthony Gilbert’s own music was then represented by Worldwhorls, for bass clarinet (2000). Inspired by the Labyrinth under Chartres Cathedral’s West Rose Window (The Last Judgment), the music unfolded with an impulsive openness in Jonathan Sage’s spacious, carefully balanced reading. Hushed, chant-like episodes and feather-like, highly decorated flourishes were juxtaposed with powerful, forthright gestures and it is a tribute to the soloist’s musicianship and the composer’s craft that these disparate elements formed a coherent and compelling narrative.

"Jonathan Sage remained onstage to give a lively, responsive interpretation of David Lancaster’s Jump Cut, for clarinet (2018). The soloist neatly characterised the work’s two sharply contrasting principal motifs, which were presented contiguously at the outset, while allowing a more relaxed, cadenza- like episode room to evolve before a bustling, ubiquitous, two-note ostinato crisply rounded off the music.

"Closing the concert’s first half, Anthony Gilbert’s Monsoon Toccata, for piano (2013) was written in memory of composer Janet Owen Thomas. Kate Ledger’s deeply-layered performance honoured the score’s commemorative aspect and responded imaginatively to the material’s dramatic, painterly elements as a musical depiction of extreme weather conditions experienced by composer and dedicatee in Northern India in 1988.

"After the interval, all three players took to the stage for two brief movements, for violin, clarinet and piano, from Nick Williams’s Digger Studies. This gruffly entertaining pair of emphatic close canons had a gritty tenacity and the musicians found poignancy as well as humour in the score’s earnest, unflagging, Sisyphean persistence.

"Jonathan Sage and Kate Ledger conveyed warmth as well as drollery in Anthony Gilbert’s Catercorny, for clarinet and piano (2004). Savouring these four aphoristic miniatures, the players were urgently assertive in the opening ‘Hegemony’, and mined a ‘Scotch-snap’ nostalgia in ‘Levity’, before lending an elegiac breadth to ‘Litany’ and investing the closing ‘Ecstasy’ with tingling, nervous energy. Anthony Gilbert’s 3 Papillon postcards, for piano (2005) were inspired by various butterflies observed by the composer while camping in the French side of the Pyrenees. Kate Ledger relished the intricacy and essential lyricism of these aural snapshots, creating fleeting soundscapes as vibrant and elusive as the colourful, fluttering insects they evoked.

"The recital concluded informally, with Nina Kümin and Kate Ledger offering an Improvisation, ‘Fragments of a concert’. Given the players’ wonderfully spontaneous, instinctive approach to the whole programme, these ad lib, farewell reflections seemed to sum up the intimate, exploratory and thought-provoking nature of an exceptional evening of music-making."

Paul Conway