The heartening number of recordings of Gál’s music have alerted
a widening audience to his highly effective contribution to what
we might call the mainstream. These works for violin and piano,
for example, date from a fifteen year period between 1920 and
1935 and they reflect both his inheritance as a composer and the
flexibility he found within this lineage to pour an almost vocalised
sense of lyricism into his chamber music. They emerge, as a result,
as works of vibrant warm heartedness but never easy effusion.
His characteristically thick piano writing is always a point of
issue, but it does ensure that there is plenty going on, and plenty
to listen to and admire.
The B flat minor sonata dates from 1920. It was written for Robert
Pollack, a fellow Viennese who was closely attuned to the zeitgeist
of post-war music making. Strongly allied with Korngold, with
whom he made some rare (acoustic, I think) recordings for Homochord,
Pollack was the perfect conduit for Gál’s own brand of heightened
lyricism and harmonically questing writing. Unfortunately he never
recorded any of Gál’s music. Chromatic and quite dense one should
listen out, at around 4:55 for a quite beautiful lyric lied from
the violin, which wouldn’t have been despised by Korngold himself.
There’s a scherzo of Prater-like vivacity and amusement in the
outer sections, with a more rhapsodic B section. There then follows
a lyrically introspective finale, thematically related to the
opening movement. The free and expansive writing makes emotive
and structural sense. The little piano stalking figure toward
the end pushes the music in the direction of quiet resolution.
The D minor Sonata wasn’t published. It was written in 1933, the
year in which he was dismissed from his German position as Director
of Music in Mainz. This must be a strong index of why he barely
even mentioned the sonata subsequently. Nevertheless it’s a hugely
attractive work – rhapsodic, and with the lyric pulse only occasionally
disrupted by some discordant turn of phrase. Very, very occasionally
one can hearken back to an almost Delian cadence but what has
not disappeared is his quasi-operatic sense of vocalised melody
lines. A brisk, taut Scherzo with an elegant B section follows.
The finale is a nostalgic lied which fuses with a high spirited
Allegro section before reappearing, lusciously, and reinvigorates
the energetic writing still more.
Programmatically Avie has infiltrated the fun and games of the
Suite in G between the two sonatas. This was originally written
for mandolin and piano. It’s suitably free-spirited, with a wistful
but untroubled slow movement and a backwards looking mien.
There are other recordings of both sonatas. The Violin Sonata
in D has been recorded by David Frühwirth and Henri Sigfridsson
in a disc called Trails
of Creativity: Music from Between the Wars - Vienna-Berlin-London:
They’re both excellent performances, though that
of the present team of
Annette-Barbara Vogel and Juhani
Lagerspetz is somewhat more incisive. I’ve not heard competing
versions of the B flat minor sonata though there are several,
including an earlier version by Vogel herself on CYB360 901.
This excellently engineered and annotated disc however has the
big advantage of gathering together these works – the Suite, I
believe, is a first ever recording – in authoritative and highly