works for solo piano span a remarkable
period. His Op.7, the Three Sketches,
or more properly Drei Skizzen, were
written when Mahler was still alive;
the superbly sustained Twenty-Four Fugues,
his Op.108, were completed seventy years
later. In between his life saw success,
schism, emigration and retrenchment
followed by sustained renewal. This
three disc set traces that trajectory
of writing for his own instrument, the
piano Ė collectors will remember his
contribution to the Edinburgh Festival
when he formed part of the four hand
piano team alongside Curzon and with
Ferrier, Seefried et al for a
Brahms evening, fortunately recorded.
The first disc ranges
back and forth, starting with the 1927
Sonata and ending with the 1944 Three
Preludes but includes works both earlier
and later. This makes programming sense.
The Sonata is a four-movement work of
immediacy and attractive melodic openness.
Fresh-limbed the opening may be but
it does rise to the occasional pitch
and the accent is rather French, not
least in the perky Scherzo (a minuet)
where the rocking figures and accelerated
drive imparts a somewhat comedic element.
This is an impression reinforced by
the alert but certainly not overtly
expressive variational slow movement.
The Suite is a somewhat earlier work
dating from Gálís early thirties.
He carves a haltingly witty Menuet and
a warmly flowing Sarabande that ultimately
gains in gravity and depth.
Textures are lissom
and clean in the 1951 first Sonatina;
the ethos is classical without becoming
neo-classical and thereís plenty of
pert, but not tart, humour in the finale
of this concise and enjoyable three-movement
ten-minute work. The companion Sonatina
(No.2 but actually written two years
earlier) sounds more explicitly classical
in orientation, not least with its four-movement
schema with a touching Arioso at its
heart. Those early Sketches are notable
for the drama and drive of the last
but I was more taken by one of the last
works he wrote for piano in Germany
before having to return to Austria Ė
the Three Small Pieces. The second is
a hauntingly lyric song without words,
marked simply Melody; Lento, semplice
ed espressivo and is exquisite.
Donít overlook the fast and furious
opening of the Three Preludes.
The two following discs
house the Preludes and the Fugues. The
Preludes were written in 1960 and owe
their composition to a protracted period
of time Gál spent in hospital.
To keep in trim he wrote one prelude
for each day he spent in hospital. He
stayed a fortnight and the set was complete
and revised within a few months. As
with almost all his solo piano music
these are concise, pithy but significant
statements and never remotely commonplace.
The B minor is puckish, the E flat major
light, the G major Prokofiev-like and
the G minor doffs the compositional
cap significantly to Chopin. Then again
there are trace elements of Mussorgsky
in the trudging E minor, delicious left
hand melody lines in the C sharp minor,
more Russian influence in the A minor
and a quicksilver D minor.
The Fugues were written
as Gálís ninetieth birthday present
to himself. One feels here a sense of
selfless homage and unselfconsciousness
of utterance; the homage of course is
to Bach, the means of expression profoundly
Bachian. Unlike the Preludes, where
influences were relatively far-ranging,
both geographically and stylistically,
here the purity of the composition is
paramount, the contrapuntal mastery
unquestioned. They unfold with the seamless
honesty and distinction that are Gálís
compositional hallmark. Elsewhere he
impresses through his sheer vitality
and melodic gift but here, toward the
end of his life, the sense of privacy
and communing is paramount.
The booklet notes by
Lloyd Moore are substantial contribution
to oneís appreciation of this set. And
Leon McCawley has seemingly immersed
himself with absolute fidelity to Gálís
music, proving as effective in the more
Gallic moments as he proves to be in
the more cosmopolitan reaches of the
Preludes. He brings out Gálís
humour Ė and itís of the un-effortful,
genuine kind Ė with precision and tact
and he measures the Fugues with acumen.
This is a most enjoyable
and rewarding set, and strongly recommended.