It’s gratifying to see the number of recordings now devoted
to the music of Hans Gál. In some cases we are approaching duplication
point, and that’s certainly the case with regard to the piano
music; or nearly. This Nimbus twofer was recorded almost at
the same time as Leon McCawley’s 3 CD survey on Avie (see review).
The difference is that Avie includes the 24 Fugues Op.108.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, and in preference to sending
readers hurtling toward that hyperlink, I’m going to reprise
my comments made in the course of the Avie review, and make
brief reference to the two performances at the end.
Gál’s 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, but are not recorded here by Martin Jones. 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 – 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
The first disc ranges back and forth; both Sonatines,
the Suite, Sonata, and Drei Skizzen. 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 impart 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 Gál’s 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 there’s
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.
I was taken by one of the last works he wrote for piano in Germany
before having to return to Austria – the Three Small Pieces.
The second is a hauntingly lyric song without words, marked
simply Melody; Lento, semplice ed espressivo and is exquisite.
Don’t overlook the fast and furious opening of the Three Preludes.
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.
Fortunately McCawley and Jones have rather different approaches
to the music. McCawley is the more driving and less dreamy performer.
In almost all cases throughout these discs Jones prefers to
take more time, to phrase with greater tonal and timbral weight.
McCawley therefore emphasises the crisp neo-baroque elements
in the music – not least in the Sonatines – whereas Jones’s
is the more reflective approach, the tone more ‘covered’, less
athletic, more thoughtful. Both play the Sonata delightfully,
though again McCawley is brisker, brighter and lighter. In the
Op.83 Preludes we find similarly divergent approaches. In No.6
Jones is languorous and slow, whilst McCawley’s accents bite
tighter, and the playing is the more mobile. In the 10th,
Jones’s rolled chords give a graver sense of balladry, whereas
McCawley can sound superficial and rather cool. Both bring out
Gál’s humour – and it’s of the un-effortful, genuine kind –
with precision and tact.
Nimbus’s more billowy recording certainly suits Jones’s mellow
approach and he can be warmly commended for his rich tone and
more horizontal response to the music; a fine foil for McCawley’s
briskness, who of course has the advantage of that third disc
see also Three emigrés:
Gál, Gerhard and Goldschmidt by Guy Rickards