Written at Windermere in September and October 1942, the Concertino for piano and string orchestra, Op 103, was published in 1944, and its composition predates the death of Gibbs’s son. Played by the popular French actress and pianist Yvonne Arnaud, a British resident during the war, to whom it is dedicated, its elegiac tone in the first two movements proclaims its more serious intent. The first movement carries the weight of the piece, and its sombre tone is belied by the skittish opening piano theme played as a simple octave. The long renewing lyrical string line is given unexpected passion and meaning as the piano responds with a fully harmonised version. The music has three elements: powerful and lyrical romantic music for piano and orchestra; simple reflective interludes; and the carefree opening piano theme which is less and less in evidence, as if symbolising the change from the previous carefree life. But it is the simple reflective interludes that bring a sudden lump to the throat, and it is with one of these that the movement ends in a mood of almost unbearable apprehension. In its quiet country way, this is passionate, and ultimately tormented, music.
The slow movement is little more than a brief lyrical interlude, its elegiac tone heralded by the opening sixteen-bar piano solo, immediately reinforced by the strings. The piano sings out the tune, its interplay with the strings creating a remarkably passionate moment. Gibbs has the ability to create a mood, a world, with the merest whisper of string or piano tone, as at the close of this movement. The mood is still elegiac, as if the composer is looking out at the Lake District countryside already showing signs of the approach of winter, beautiful but quite different to his home in Essex, and sensing (or perhaps dreading) a more imminent personal sorrow.
The finale, a headlong dancing 6/8, is a light-hearted foil to what has gone before. There is certainly no angst in this outgoing music, perhaps intended to indicate that life is very much business as usual and one way or another we will all come through. With its catchy themes Gibbs clearly intends to send the audience away whistling (why don’t people whistle any more?) the tunes.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2002