Geoffrey Tozer performs the premiere recording of Gerhard’s intensely dramatic harpsichord concerto.
Gerhard completed his unnumbered Symphony "Homanaje a Pedrell" twelve years before his Symphony No 1 (1952-3). Its genesis may have been a long drawn-out affair, the opening movement suggesting that is did not begin as a symphony. Perhaps as early as 1922, the year of Felipe Pedrell’s death, Gerhard began to contemplate this tribute to his revered teacher with whom he studied from 1915 to 1920. The tribute is based on themes which Pedrell had used in his unperformed opera La celestina (1904), and these carry through the three movements of the 1941 Symphony. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Gerhard’s family was fragmented. Gerhard found himself in Cambridge with time on his hands and returned to composition.
Two kindred spirits, surprisingly, had an effect on Gerhard; Sibelius, a contemporary symphonist and the lone voice of a small, long oppressed country; and Rachmaninov, a fellow refugee. BBC broadcasts and London concerts exposed Gerhard to the symphonic repertoire in England, with national composers such as Bax, Vaughan Williams, Rubbra and Walton active in this field. The British musical enviroment may well have encouraged him to make the symphony and the concerto his central vehicles for expression.
It was a bold example of Gerhard’s self-confidence to write work that would have to stand comparison with Manuel de Falla’s Concerto for Harpsichord and five instruments, the greatest instrumental composition by a Spanish composer. Both composers were attempting to emulate the keyboard style and formal proceedures of the sixteenth-century Spanish composer Antonio de Cabezón and his contemporaries. Gerhard’s interest in serial techniques intensified with the composition of the First Symphony (1952-3), and reached its climax in the harpsichord Concerto (1955-6) and the original version of the Second Symphony (1957-9).