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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Cello Concerto (in E minor), op.67 (c.1944) [33:21]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor, op.85 (1919) [28:04]
Antonio Meneses (cello)
Northern Sinfonia/Claudio Cruz
rec. The Sage Gateshead, Gateshead, England, 5-7 January 2012. DDD.
AVIE AV 2237 [61:48]

Experience Classicsonline

Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of his Tchaikovsky Competition gold medal with this brand-new recording for Avie. It couples an umpteenth recording of Elgar's famous Cello Concerto with the premiere of the one by Hans Gál. Similarities between the two works are self-evident: not just the length or first movements in E minor, but the fact that both composers wrote them at a time when their brand of elegiac lyricism, almost pre-war nostalgia, had become unfashionable, at least in more rarefied intellectual circles.
Though this is the first appearance of Gál's Concerto, his music is nowadays surprisingly well served by recordings. To begin with, Avie are currently three releases into a series devoted to the Symphonies, begun last year - see enthusiastic reviews here and here. The lattermost also featured the Northern Sinfonia, and they play again on a slightly earlier Avie release showcasing Gál's concertante works for violin (review). The violinist there was Annette-Barbara Vogel, who has also recorded for Avie some of Gál's chamber violin works (review). By way of tribute to Gál's adopted home city, the Edinburgh Quartet recorded his complete String Quartets on two discs for Meridian (review). All critical reports are once again glowing, as they are with regard to Gál's piano music, also reasonably well documented: from Leon McCawley's three-hours-plus traversal of the complete solo works, again on Avie (review), and a nearly-complete recording by Martin Jones on Nimbus (review); not to forget Goldstone and Clemmow's complete piano duos, originally on Olympia (review). There are many more recordings - a full discography, and much excellent information besides, is available on the website of the Hans Gál Society.
As for Elgar, Jacqueline du Pré's first recording of the Concerto with Barbirolli gives the impression of having been reissued every year since her premature death! That turns out to be almost an understatement, in fact: so far this year EMI Classics have reissued du Pré's Elgar an incredible four times in different boxed sets (9559052, 3273592, 0919752, 0919342). Thus if the work is sometimes thought of as a 'warhorse', record labels must shoulder much of the responsibility. Besides du Pré, all the following releases or reissues have appeared either in 2011 or the first half of 2012: Paul Watkins on Chandos (CHAN 10709), Mischa Maisky on DG (4783619), Jian Wang on ABC Classics (ABC 4764297), Anthony Pini on Australian Eloquence (4804249), Alisa Weilerstein on EuroArts (2058064), Mstislav Rostropovich on BBC Legends (BBCL 50052), Beatrice Harrison on Music & Arts (MACD 1257) and on EMI Classics (0956942) and Pablo Casals on Regis (RRC 5010). Not forgetting yet another du Pré last year on EMI (0954442)!
In spite of all the competition there, Meneses' account of Elgar bears up well. From the opening bars he makes it clear that this is going to be a thoughtful, musicianly interpretation. It avoids surrendering to any temptation towards melodrama or showmanship as heard in one or two of the above recordings and elsewhere. Meneses plays a Gagliano cello from around 1730, intriguingly adding an almost Baroque colour to Elgar and Gál, especially striking in the cadenzas.
In the notes Meneses describes the Gál Concerto as "a jewel of a concerto that should be part of the normal repertoire of all cellists in the world". It does not have the obvious immediacy of Elgar's work, at least not in the first movement. It is undeniably 'atavistic', revealing a nostalgia at times for Dvorák or Saint-Saëns, let alone Elgar. It is also masterfully orchestrated, structured and paced, unfailingly mellifluous, ideationally and dynamically varied, and surely as rewarding a work for the soloist as it is for the audience. Meneses hopes others will take up its cause; with this as reference recording, they can hardly go wrong.
The English-French-German booklet features detailed notes on the works by conductor Kenneth Woods, who recorded Gál's Third Symphony with the Orchestra of the Swan for Avie (see link above). There is also a short but interesting conversation between Meneses and Eva Fox-Gál, daughter of the composer, and ever-helpful in the promotion of her father's legacy.
Audio quality is good without being spectacular. Both works have been recorded at low volumes, which may need some adjustment. Depth feels slightly circumscribed by imperfect definition in the orchestral strings in particular. In all likelihood this is not a major consideration, however. Claudio Cruz's attention to detail and the excellent Northern Sinfonia's lack of pomp make up for it, on the whole.
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