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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
The Complete Works for Solo Piano

Sonata for piano Op.28 (1927) [18.20]
Suite for piano Op.24 [14.16]
Sonatina No.1 in C Op.58 (1951) [10.26]
Sonatina No.2 in A minor Op.58 (1951) [11.48]
Drei Skizzen Op.7 (1910-11) [6.18]
Three small pieces for piano Op.64 (1933) [8.55]
Three preludes for piano Op.65 (1944) [8.38]
Twenty-Four Preludes for piano Op.83 (1960) [50.02]
Twenty-Four Fugues for piano Op.108 (1980) [59.54]
Leon McCawley (piano)
Recorded at Potton Hall, Suffolk, November 2004 and March 2005
AVIE AV2064 [3 CDs: 78.47 + 50.02 + 59.54]

Gálís surviving 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.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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