Gail Kubik: Symphony Concertante, Divertimentos – Gil Rose, Boston Modern Orchestra Project

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

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Kubik brings to life forgotten American works of significance

GAIL KUBIK: Divertimento No. 1 —Gerald McBoing Boing—Divertimento No. 2—Symphony Concertante for Trumpet, Viola, Piano and Orchestra—Vivian Choi, piano—Terry Everson, trumpet—Frank Kelly, narrator—Jing Peng, viola—Robert Schulz, percussion—Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose—BMOPsound 1085. 

In 1950 the producers of the Columbia Pictures cartoon, Gerald McBoing Boing, decided that the musical score should be equal partners with the animation, writing and the “super sound effects.” So composer Gail Kubik (1914-84) wrote the score first, the opposite of the usual procedure of writing the music after the animation was completed. That made it easy for him to use the music as the concert piece on this CD. The cartoon is based on a story by Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) where a boy can only ‘speak’ sound effects. Shunned by his family and peers, he wins adulation and a career by creating sound effects for radio shows and cartoons. The animated short won an Oscar in 1951 and Kubik’s score won the Prix de Rome in the same year. The concert piece, narrated by Frank Kelly, uses percussion solos rather than the sound effects in the cartoon. It’s a virtual concerto for percussion. The music is humorous, colorful, vigorous and ingratiating.

Gail Kubik was raised in a small town in Oklahoma whose immigrant family contained many amateur musicians. During the Depression years (1930-37) “The Kubik Ensemble” toured through the Midwest. In 1934 Gail entered the Eastman School of Music and then to the American Conservatory of Music. Later he studied with Walter Piston at Harvard. Nadia Boulanger became an advocate. In 1940 he found a home at NBC radio as a staff composer. As the war approached, he became music director of the Motion Picture Bureau of the Office of War Information, composing, conducting and supervising film music.

A disaffection with Hollywood motivated him to teach in Rome, but he returned in 1955 to write the music for the Hollywood blockbuster The Desperate Hours starring Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March. However, the score was deemed too modern for the audience’s taste. Bitter after this rejection, he returned to Europe as conductor and lecturer. He came back to America and eventually became composer in residence at Scripps College in Claremont, California until retirement in 1980.

His music has elements of Aaron Copland’s ‘American sound’ and Igor Stravinsky’s neoclassicism. Kubik’s two divertimentos comprise short movements that are jazzy, witty and joyous. In the First Divertimento for thirteen players, Kubik quotes from a theme in Bach’s Partita No. 3 that he describes as “impudent.” Divertimento No. 2 is more leisurely, but the ending “Dance Toccata” ends buoyantly. Both Divertimentos are delightful and energetic.

The major work here is Symphony Concertante (1952) which uses music from the 1949 film C-Man. Significant virtuosic turns for the trumpet, viola and piano and episodic rhythmic fragments make this a hybrid between a concerto and a concerto grosso. You can hear the influence of Stravinsky, but there’s a lightness and warmth here. A muted trumpet begins the “long and dramatic song” of the second movement. When the viola conjoins, the effect is wistfully beautiful. The addition of the piano gradually adds drama.  Brass-viola duos end the movement quietly. The rondo finale is restless, impish and brilliantly orchestrated. Kudos to the superb solo musicians of the Boston Modern Orchestra. 

Conductor Gil Rose consistently selects forgotten American works of significance and performs them brilliantly. The superb sound amplifies the impact of the music.

—Robert Moon 


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Album Cover for Gail Kubik Symphony Concertante

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