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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra Op. 57 (1948) [32:42]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 22 in E flat, K482 (1785) [35:59]
World premiere recording (Gál)
Cadenzas: Denis Matthews (Mozart)
Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Kenneth Woods (Gál); Sarah Beth Briggs, Bradley Creswick (Mozart)
rec. 12-14 January 2016, Hall One, Sage Gateshead, UK
AVIE AV2358 [68:51]

Gal’s music has lately been enjoying something of a revival, with all his symphonies, the bulk of his concerted and chamber works and his piano music all now available on CD – and we have to thank the efforts of the orchestra and conductor of the present disc for a sizeable proportion of this. Having so much of this composer’s output available allows a critical appreciation of the development of his compositional voice and style. Early works, like the Piano Quartet Op.13, sound remarkably like Brahms (not surprisingly – Gal had studied composition with Eusebius Mandyczewski, who had been a close friend of the great composer and became, as Gal put it “like a spiritual father to me”) but Gal evolved away from nineteenth century late-romanticism whilst avoiding having anything to do with the fashionable Second Viennese School – or even the neoclassicism of Hindemith or Stravinsky. His later style was very much in evidence by the time of his Op 39 Violin Concerto of 1932 but, by 1948 - the year of the composition of the very accessible piano concerto on this disc - the music sounds as though it could have been written by a contemporary British composer. Whilst there are still nods in the direction of pared-down late Strauss one is frequently reminded of the idioms of Rawsthorne, Ireland, Pitfield and Rowley.

The concerto has the standard classical three movements starting with a sunny Allegro, followed by a rapt and lyrical Adagio and a humorous and playful final Allegretto Vivace. Given that Gal’s circumstances in the early 1940s must have been wretched (he suffered six months of internment in the UK as an “enemy alien” after fleeing his homeland in 1938) and that, during this period, his close family suffered a death and three suicides in close succession, his music seems remarkably resilient and free from angst. As Kenneth Woods points out in his booklet notes: “music opened a window to an inner world of sanity and beauty in difficult times”.

Sarah Beth Briggs was a new name to me but she and the orchestral forces do the composer proud. The performance here is very engaging and the recording (produced by the composer’s grandson) if not quite demonstration quality, provides a lifelike and very acceptable soundstage with excellent instrumental balance.

Although it was written for a similar-sized orchestra, the logic of the Mozart concerto coupling is a bit tenuous and some may regret that the opportunity was not taken here, as it was with the first recording of Gal’s Violin Concerto, to couple the Concertino for the same solo and instrumental forces (Gal having written both a concerto and a concertino for each of piano, violin and ‘cello). At any rate K.482 is also given a memorably nimble and detailed performance – directed by the soloist and the leader - which, in my opinion, is good enough to rank alongside those of Uchida and Perahia.

This delightful disc has already had two very positive MWI reviews and I can only concur with them both in welcoming it.

Bob Stevenson

Previous reviews: Stephen Greenbank (Recording of the Month) and Dan Morgan



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