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Gerber: Piano Trio; Duo; Elegy; Notturno
Nikkanen, Lin, Smith
Gerber: Piano Trio; Duo; Elegy; Notturno
Genres: Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1


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CD Details

All Artists: Nikkanen, Lin, Smith, Buechner
Title: Gerber: Piano Trio; Duo; Elegy; Notturno
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Naxos American
Original Release Date: 1/1/2009
Re-Release Date: 6/30/2009
Genres: Pop, Classical
Styles: Vocal Pop, Chamber Music, Historical Periods, Classical (c.1770-1830)
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 636943961827

CD Reviews

Reviews From The Press
James Farmingdale | New York, NY USA | 09/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"From David's Review Corner:

I read on the disc's back insert a quotation I wrote many years ago,
and it reminds of my unswerving opinion that Steven Gerber is one of
today's most important composers. Born in Washington D.C. in 1948,
Gerber's mentors include Milton Babbitt and Earl Kim, though his
style of composition that has been evolving over the last forty years
and shows no allegiance to anyone. The present release offers an
overview of his chamber music through much of his career, his
earliest, the Fantasy for solo violin, written when he was nineteen
and toying with a mix of tonality and atonality in a short virtuoso
showpiece. The Piano Trio was written a few months later with an
unashamedly commitment to pure atonality with writing that makes huge
demands on the technique of the performers. In two movements, and
often aggressive, it has a passion for the long held notes that form
a backdrop to solo hyperactivity. It is played with suitable
intensity by the violin of Kurt Nikkanen--also the soloist in the
Fantasy--with Brinton Smith and Sara Davis Buechner as the
distinguished cellist and pianist. The following year the Duo for
violin and cello comes from the same style, but turn the clock
forward sixteen years to the Three Songs Without Words, and we find a
total rethink, his astringent atonality mellowed in a listener-
friendly lyric tonality. The 1991 Elegy on the name `Dmitri
Shostakovich' fully embraces modern tonality, and takes a further
step in that direction for the dark but beautiful Notturno of 1996
for piano trio. One year later Gerber was taking a look at minimalism
in the Three pieces for two violins, before he comes to the naughty
Gershwiniana--using three well-known melodies by Gershwin--and from
2001 the Three Folksong Transformations. Where have such immaculate
performances been since their recording in 2002? They serve the
composer well, and I much commend the disc to you.

- David Denton, July 2009

From MusicWeb International:

Naxos's ever-burgeoning "American Classics" series has now reached
the work of Steven R. Gerber with this disc of diverse chamber works
dating from 1967 up to 2001. Not having heard any of his music
previously this proved to be a good way to sample his work within
this genre. Two things struck me immediately; firstly, whilst the
instruments called for are the most traditional of all chamber
instruments - strings and piano, the sounds that Gerber conjures from
them are far from standard. Yet it would be quite wrong to imply from
that that he `distorts' these instruments - there is no Cage-like
"prepared piano" effects here. Rather the choice of register,
instrumental and timbral combinations, and musical layering results
in a very unique sound world. Secondly, Gerber is indeed fortunate to
have this disc performed by such an elite group of players. The
technical demands he makes of them could have resulted in
performances of far less assurance and panache in the hands of lesser
players. Here all are virtuosi in their own right as well as sounding
thoroughly committed to the sound-world Gerber creates.

In his own informative and interesting liner notes Gerber points out
that the programme of this CD moves from later works first to
earliest works last. I'm not convinced that this was a good or wise
choice. Personally I find it more interesting to hear a musical
personality evolve - OK, a little judicious track programming sorts
that out but most of us pop a disc in and just want to hit play! As
presented here the two most substantial works that end the CD are for
me the least individual and least convincing. The external musical
influences are the least digested - some Messiaen-inspired birdsong
leaps out of the Piano Trio about halfway through the first movement
only to be overwhelmed by some thunderously modernistic passages. As
he admits himself these are clearly young man's music - a real sense
of gauntlets being cast down. There is a dogged determination here
NOT to write any phrase or harmony that could possibly be mistaken
for being diatonic. By the time of the later works (represented
earlier on this disc!) Gerber seems much more at ease with the idea
of writing music of an essentially lyrical melodic nature. But there
are traits here that Gerber continued to develop. He has a penchant
for writing string parts cruelly high - I can't stress strongly
enough how well these passages are handled by the players. In the
Blues-Etude which forms the final movement of Gershwiniana there is a
manic cat and mouse chase by the 3 violins which must be devilish to
perform and littered with the possibility of going horribly horribly
wrong. But here the players toss it off with exactly the kind of
ovation-inducing insouciance that Gerber must have envisaged. Oddly,
it was this same movement - which I really enjoyed - that raised one
little query in my mind. Clearly Gerber understands the instruments
he writes for well. Just occasionally though I couldn't help thinking
that the music was being used to serve a technique or effect rather
than the other way round. Comparing the Three Folksong
Transformations of 2001 for piano trio with the previously mentioned
1968 Piano Trio makes it clear just how far Gerber has developed. I
enjoyed the condensed aphorisms of the later piece - no musical
gesture is wasted - quite the opposite of the prolix po-faced student
work. In fact each of these later works is a masterful study in

Given the variety and brevity of much of the music here everyone will
have their own personal favourites. For me the two groups of
"arrangements" that open the disc gave the greatest pleasure together
with the haunting Elegy on the name Dmitri Shostakovich.
Interestingly Gerber notes that this latter is his most-played work
and I can understand why. In its brief four and a half minutes it
encompasses a powerfully wide range of musical emotion but here I
feel the compositional technique is serving the music. Kurt Nikkanen
proves himself to be as adept on the viola as he is elsewhere on this
disc on violin. Because of the diversity of the music on offer it is
hard for a listener new to Gerber's music such as myself to know for
sure where the true musical spirit of the composer lies. Elsewhere on
this site discs of his orchestral works have been well received and I
would be interested to hear how he handles larger scale forms and

The 2002 recording - I'm guessing licensed to Naxos from another
company - is up close and personal but as has been made clear none of
the playing is in any way compromised by that kind of intimate
attention. Also, there is enough air around the instruments to avoid
the sound becoming claustrophobic. Only in the unrelenting early
works does any aural fatigue kick in but this is more down to the
compositions themselves. This is a CD I enjoyed in parts, superbly
performed throughout but I need to hear more of this composer's work
to learn to recognise the musician behind the technician.

Diverse modern chamber works splendidly performed.

- Nick Barnard, September 2009

From The Infodad Team:

The new, very well-played CD of his chamber music spans most of
Gerber's compositional life, including works written over a period of
more than 30 years. The earliest pieces here are the least tonal and
most derivative: Fantasy for Solo Violin (1967), a virtuoso display
piece; Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano (1968), which harks back to
Bartók and requires both technical virtuosity and the performers'
willingness to wear their hearts on their sleeves; and Duo for Violin
and Cello (1969), in which Gerber consciously adapts Elliott Carter's
technique of making each instrument a separate personality and having
them argue or ignore each other before eventually reconciling. All
these works are interesting to hear and challenging (sometimes very
challenging) to play, but they are less indicative of Gerber's
personal style than the later, shorter and generally more tonal works
on this CD. Elegy on the Name `Dmitry Shostakovich' for Solo Viola
(1991) is a fascinating exploration that eventually incorporates the
earlier composer's signature "DSCH" motif to fine effect. Notturno
for Violin, Cello and Piano (1996) is dark, strong and (as Gerber
himself observes) rather Brahmsian--and conveys a real sense of depth.
The four remaining pieces offered here are all collections of
miniatures: each contains three brief movements, some barely longer
than one minute. But Gerber does a great deal in these short forms.
Three Songs without Words (1986), a solo-violin arrangement of some
Gerber songs with words, is simple and emotionally straightforward.
Three Pieces for Two Violins (1997) nicely mixes dissonance with
lyricism, eventually subsiding into the latter. Gershwiniana (1999),
for three violins, and Three Folksong Transformations for Violin,
Cello and Piano (2001) both take skeletal elements of tunes and re-
harmonize them while thoroughly changing their moods. The final
movement of the Gershwin-based piece, called "Blues-Etude," is
especially compelling. Gerber does not adopt tonality on a wholesale
basis in any of these works, but he flirts with it often enough--and
uses it frequently enough as a jumping-off or concluding point--to
show that he has thought its implications through carefully and found
some personal and very effective ways to adapt it to the late 20th
and early 21st centuries.

- Infodad Team, July 2009