Colin Currie/BBC Philharmonic

HK Gruber Percussion Concertos

Colin Currie Records

NOW returned to Scotland and living in suburban Glasgow, star percussionist Colin Currie has used the recent hiatus in performance opportunities to start his own label. This release brings together two recordings made by the BBC, one in the BBC Phil’s Manchester home at the Bridgewater Hall with Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena, the other a world premiere at the 2015 Proms with Finn John Storgards on the podium.

Heinz Karl Gruber is a composer who divides opinion. Also an orchestral double bassist, he has maintained a performing career as a baritone “chansonnier” (his preferred designation) after starting his musical life as a member of the Vienna Boys Choir in the 1950s. Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs for a Mad King join his own Frankenstein!! in his theatrical repertoire, and that is far from irrelevant to the music of his works for percussion.

Currie is firmly in the camp of the devotees and sees Gruber’s three-movement Rough Music as a pivotal work in the percussion concerto repertory he has helped expand with his commissioning. It dates from the early 1980s and Gruber’s bass-playing days, and the closing movement, with its nods French composers Satie and Sauguet, is full of chanson, while the earlier movements are more cinematic, moments of excitement alternating with romantic tunes you may have to listen hard to hear.

The song in the single-movement “into the open . . .” is easier to spot, even if we never hear all of it. It is Kurt Weill’s Alabama Song, from Mahagonny Songspiel, included not because the songs of Brecht/Weill and Hanns Eisler are also in Gruber’s vocal repertoire (although they are) but because the work remembers the composer’s friend, and Weill expert, David Drew, a musicologist who spent his primary school years in Campbeltown, Argyll, and died in 2009.

Currie is, of course, magnificent throughout, whether in the more contemplative moments on marimba or vibraphone, pummelling a drum set, or dashing between Japanese gongs and tom-toms.

Keith Bruce