How fortunate for listeners to have Jack Gallagher manage to engage the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor JoAnn Falletta (thanks to the generosity of individual donors) and combine forces for a retrospective survey of this composer’s orchestral music.
Diversions Overture (whose thematic life can trace its roots to Gallagher’s Diversions for Symphonic Band) is a Master’s thesis of orchestration and styles. From its mystical opening, tinged with ominous utterings that never really have a payoff, the ear is treated to welcome woodwind counterpoint in the thoughtful subject, distant echoes of Appalachian Spring, a smattering of Bartók intertwining violins (and was that a splash of “Feelings” in the glorious mix?), all the while combined into a marvellous organic growth that set the stage for the exhilarating, full-cry orchestral hue.
After Falletta completely established the faster tempo, the friendly ghost of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture paid a call, the robust trombones had their say and the delectable solo harp paved the way for the first-desk strings to expertly weave their lines into the musical fabric. The brass chorale was a model of balance, deftly contrasted after the glissando harp ushered in the saucy woodwinds.
Mahler unison strings, quietly punctuated with Ivesian chimes, added much to the beautifully paced adieu that slipped away into the night.
The Berceuse first came to life for solo piano. Falletta readily plumbed the emotional depths of this warmly reflective lullaby even if its expanded sonic landscape might have kept the intended targets awake longer than expected. A superb change of register from the solo flute was soon followed by the cellos in their glory, verging precariously on the edge of weepy. Once again the music vanished tenderly, allowing listeners to leave these moments of calm with a few memories of their own childhoods past.
Sinfonietta has gone through three transformations since the original Two Pieces was crafted in 1990. The “Intrada” is peppered with Stravinsky-like drive, although Falletta can’t quite cause her charges to ride the syncopation, resulting in a slightly rough-and-ready feel. The cellos more than make up for that blemish as they soar through their long lines. Everything builds convincingly before Gallagher—in a master stroke of timing—lets the solo strings refreshingly, briefly change the colour and texture.
The “Intermezzo” and “Pavane” are cut from the same emotional cloth although with somewhat different threads. In the former, the violin part-writing pays homage to Ravel’s “Petit Poucet” from Ma Mère l’Oye, morphing into gently engaging interweaves in the latter which make very effective use of high pedals.
“Malambo” suffers the lack of a rock-solid core from the podium and needs dryer punctuation in the “chats” between voices to realize the composer’s highly energetic intent. The concluding “Rondo concertante” fires on all of its musical cylinders (soli and tutti play nicely together), filling the ear with delight and the soul with an irrepressible sense of fun.
The concluding work, Symphony in One Movement: Threnody, finds Gallagher at his most personal. Written in 1991, then revised in 2008, the opening’s haunting violins, with their now familiar close writing, set up a number of pairings that bind the music together. Compositional morsels from Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (notably the transition from the nether land of death to the galaxy of extremes—at times frenzied but curiously lacking rage and the pairs woodwinds: the clarinet cadenza is a standout only to be outdone by a truly seamless transition to the bass clarinet) inform much of the writing. Highlights include a perfectly devilish solo violin and the wondrously soothing influence of the cellos ushering in the ever-so dreamy harp’s ethereal cadenza.
Having become so imbued with all that has come before both musically and personally, Gallagher’s next phase of mastering a singular, instinctive voice is anticipated with great expectations. JWR