Composed in 1971 for Ifor James, the Concerto for French Horn and Band revealed some of those elements that have made Gregson’s music so popular with audiences (and not just brass band audiences) worldwide: the boldness of his melodies, with the interval of the fourth revealing his admiration for the music of Paul Hindemith; his incisive rhythms, betraying the influence of another favourite composer, Béla Bartók; an admirable economy of means; and the clarity of his scoring.
Each of the Concerto’s three movements displays a different facet of the French Horn’s character. The first is serious, symphonic in impulse, the rising fourths of the opening gesture giving the music an almost Germanic weight. In the slow movement, the soloist becomes the first among equals, sharing with the cornet soloist some typically haunting melodies. The lyrical flow is interrupted at the mid-point by mysterious, fleet-of-foot cadenzas. A rondo finale brings the concerto to a lighthearted conclusion. The rising fourths here are the impulse for a jaunty theme which reveals another of Gregson’s early influences – William Walton, and in particular that composer’s Partita for orchestra.
© Paul Hindmarsh