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Kingdom Records Ltd., Elstree Business Centre, Elstree Way, Borehamwood, Herts. WD6 1RX

Bella Musica Edition
Bella Musica Edition (Antes Edition)
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D- 77815 BÜHL
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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Music for and with mandolin

Biedermeiertänze Op. 66 for mandolin orchestra (1954)
Sinfonietta No. 2 in A major Op. 81 (1961)
Divertimento for mandolin and harp Op. 80 (1958)
Divertimento for two alto recorders and guitar Op. 68c (1958)
Sonja Wiedemer (mandolin)
Petra van der Heide (harp)
Ute Scriba, Birgit Kreß (recorder)
Armin Korn (guitar)
Badisches Zupforchester/Volker Gerland
Rec. 2002. DDD
ANTES BM-CD 31.9171 [73.12]



The second CD of Gál’s music for plucked instruments is, at first blush, something of a disappointment. This disappointment springs from CD appearing second and one might perhaps have expected music or performance values of even higher quality than on the first CD. A glance at the catalogue number seems to indicate that both CDs were originally intended to be issued simultaneously. For technical reasons this was not to be. The first thing to do is to ensure that your expectations are realistic. Once this adjustment is made we are again fully satisfied in a genre now somewhat familiar to us from the first disc. The repertoire recorded here was again, in part, written in collaboration with cellist and mandolinist Vinzenz Hladky. The recordings were produced, mastered and edited by Gál's grandson, who has done an excellent job.

The ten or so years spanned by the range of works on this CD give an even stronger picture of both Gál's musical antecedents and interests. The Biedermeiertänze (which can be translated as ‘Victorian Dances’) are hardly typical of the time they are supposed to represent. The energetic and charming finale gives a flavour of that era. In fact the title of this work was only chosen for the purposes of publication. The second movement, Poco lento, is has a Venetian accent. The somewhat uninspired Sinfonietta is performed to high standards in spite of the somewhat banal main motif of the first movement. Gál's contrapuntal techniques are treated with the utmost delicacy, although there are times when a bit more mezzo-piano would have been an improvement. These are highly engaging interpretations of strength and intensity perhaps too expressive by reference to the subject. The outer sections of the slow movement are impressive. There is a playful Scherzo and a charming but somewhat long-winded final Rondo. Of quite different qualities is the delicate Divertimento Op. 80 which has Ravelian touches and a raffinesse that should make it a favourite with both harpists and mandolinists. The Intermezzo evokes several periods simultaneously while retaining the atmosphere of the other movements. The Divertimento Op. 68c is in the mould of the mid-1950s' recorder revival both in England and on the continent. The conjunction of mandolin with guitar, however delicately composed and performed, fills the reviewer with unease. The lay musicians movement, which seems in this work to have inspired Gál, is represented in a typically German, rather conservative way. This is cast aside only in the spirited grazioso finale.

The liner notes by Alexander Becker (the author is not identified in the booklet) are not as highly inspired as for those he contributed for the first CD. We know that he can do better. The same can be said of the front cover illustration which shows an elderly and frail Hans Gál in his ninety-somethings. The cover will not necessarily improve sales. But at least we have here important interpretations of works that will have to wait ages before being heard in live performances in the UK … or anywhere else for that matter. This is a pity, especially in the case of the charming Divertimento for mandolin and harp.

Jürgen Schaarwächter

Jonathan Woolf has also listened to this disc

This is the second in Antes’ Gál series of mandolin works. The first [BM CD 31.9177] covered the Capriccio of 1949, second Sinfonietta, three-mandolin suite and the Lyric Suite on Browning’s Pippa Passes. His interest in the mandolin was sparked by his Viennese friend Vinzenz Hladky, who had organised an intriguing sounding mandolin, guitar and harp ensemble at the Viennese Academy of Music. The composer had, in fact, insinuated the mandolin into two works as early as 1934 but he was to return, interest and vigour undiminished, for this all-mandolin ensemble for which he wrote after the War. There is a degree of collaborative work about the works. The Biedermeirtänze for example were given to Hladky in short score and he then orchestrated them for his ensemble.

That said these are jovial, affectionate works, very unusual and nicely crafted. Gál frequently manages to fuse baroque and then almost contemporary dance forms – with their hints of Viennese café and dance bands – in compact, generally (baroque order) four-movement, form. The Biedermeirtänze for example opens with some striking baroque gestures before a poco lento second movement that sways and shimmers, single mandolin lines emerge from the texture to lead the massed strings. His humour is evident wherever one listens. The slow movement is supple and lyrical, lacks great thematic complexity - not the name of the game here – and is wholly charming. The 1961 Sinfonietta, as befits its title, has a degree more developmental potential, is cast in more symphonic form. There’s plenty of colour and contrast, plenty, too, of well-argued but relaxed counterpoint. The final movements are again vivacious and deft, with answering figures embedded in the score and with reminiscences, in the finale, of the second movement Andante.

The Divertimento for Mandolin and Harp explores the contrast in sonorities between the two instruments. I particularly took to the delightful Intermezzo; andante which has the simple eloquence of a popular song. Finally the Divertimento; a simple piece, full of lyric generosity and easygoing charm but one that sports a fine cadenza for the guitar in the second movement – perky, vaunting baroque lines, counterpoint – but also airy, skittish and delightfully intimate.

Those expecting something arrestingly different need not worry or should maybe conceal their disappointment. Though Gál and the Mandolin has the potential for one of those joke LP titles – Boulez conducts Edward German, the Swingle Singers Scat Schoenberg, that sort of thing – there is no marmoreal revisionism in Gál’s approach. Instead uncomplicated but not simplistic affection, apposite forces, and an amused counterpoint rich in lyricism and baroque procedure are the means by which he conveys his vision. It’s an appealing, relaxed and humorous one full of schnitzel in the park and the curious clank of the lager glass.

Jonathan Woolf

Review of Volume 1 Hans GÁL (1890-1987) Music for and with mandolin:- Capriccio for plucked orchestra (1949); Sinfonietta No. 2 in E minor Op. 86 (1966); Suite for three mandolins Op. 59b (c.1955); Lyric Suite on Robert Browning's dramatic poem "Pippa Passes" (1934). Sandra Stahlheber (mezzo-soprano), Heidrun Burkart, Alexander Becker, Jörg Becker, Sonja Wiedemer (mandolin), Brigitte Sauer (flute), Barbara Mauch-Heinke (violin), Ulrich Ziegler (viola), Gregor Herrmann (cello)
Badisches Zupforchester/Volker Gerland. Rec 1996-2000 ANTES BM-CD 31.9177 [65.00?]

see also HANS GAL - Composer, pianist, conductor and musicologist of international renown. 1890-1987 A Personal Tribute and Memoir by Margaret Moncrieff Kelly

Three emigrés: Gál, Gerhard and Goldschmidt by Guy Rickards


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