Hans GÁL (1890-1987)

Works for Violin and Piano
Violin Sonata in B flat minor Op.17 (1920) [25:24]
Suite in G major Op.56 (1935) [12:28]
Violin Sonata in D, posthumous (1933) [22:51]
Annette-Barbara Vogel (violin)
Juhani Lagerspetz (piano)
rec. April 2009, St George’s, Bristol.
AVIE AV 2182 [61:12]
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: 1918-1938. 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 sensitive performances.
Jonathan Woolf

Authoritative and highly sensitive ... see Full Review