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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Music for Cello
Sonata for Cello Solo, Op.109a (1982)* [20:23]
Suite for Cello Solo, Op.109b (1982)* [21:22]
Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.89 (1953) [21:54]
Alfia Nakipbekova (cello), Jakob Fichert (piano)
*first recordings
rec. June 2010, Land Art, Papa Westray, Orkney (op.109), November 2010, The Music Room, Champs Hill, Pullborough (op.89), UK

Hans Gál composed the two solo cello works on this disc aged 92, towards the end of his long life and they were almost the very last works he wrote. They are recorded here for the first time and what extraordinary works they are too. Such profound and passionately expressed contemporary works for solo cello are rare enough; when they are as gorgeously written as these are it is as if one has discovered a crock of gold. Add to that the incredibly perceptive and sensitive playing by Alfia Nakipbekova, coupled with the intelligent interpretation by pianist Jakob Fichert in the Sonata for violoncello and Pianoforte, and you have a disc to cherish which demands frequent replaying and I’m certain it will never be far from my CD player.

Both works demonstrate how much fondness Gál had for the cello as well as a thorough understanding of its tonal colours, its range and abilities all of which he fully exploits. The first of them, the Sonata for Violoncello Solo, Op.109a, is a superb work that mixes the serious with the humorous in equal measure. Naturally, as with almost any work for solo cello one is reminded of Bach’s cello suites and despite the fact that those suites were composed in the 18th century they are so utterly timeless that one can easily hear echoes in a work such as this, reminding us again how music so often spans the centuries. For some a solo work of such length is not an easy listen but I would thoroughly recommend that anyone who thinks that way gives these works a chance, as they will be surprised how totally engaging they are. As I said earlier the mixture of serious and humorous is very evident in the sonata but even when serious Gál is not overly so, making this a much easier listen than it might have been. It is a truly beautiful, attractive and melodic work with themes that are readily assimilated so that the listener will immediately recognise them when next they hear them so that it all becomes very familiar very quickly.

The Suite for Violoncello Solo, Op.109b also has echoes of Bach in its fabric especially shortly after the first movement begins. The second movement is a tongue in cheek parody of a strutting march, perhaps poking fun at the military, which Gàl would have known much about having served in the Austrian army in the Carpathians, Serbia and Italy in the First World War. Reflecting for a moment on that, it is both fortunate and remarkable that he managed to survive it just as he did the ascent of Hitler that put paid to his career as Director of the Conservatoire in Mainz, during which time he was regarded as one the brightest and best composers and scholars of his generation. The Cavatina comes next which is more serious but is nevertheless full of gorgeous sonorities in its principal melody while the closing Rondino, also with Bachian overtones, is pensive yet dancelike, despite being rather introverted. Reminding yourself as you listen to both solo works that they were written by a 92 year old emphasises how fantastically creative Gál was right to the end having had the luck of both longevity and lucidity.

The third and last work on this highly enjoyable disc is Gál’s Sonata for violoncello and Pianoforte, Op.89 that the disc says dates from 1953, while Malcolm McDonald’s notes give as having been composed in 1954. It was composed in Scotland which Gàl had made his home after fleeting Hitler’s Europe (first being interned as ‘an enemy alien’ for a short time, being another victim of Churchill’s edict to “collar the lot”). Again Gál’s facility for penning beautiful tunes is in evidence throughout this sumptuously melodic work. The two outer movements are both over nine minutes long, sandwiching a short Poco vivace in between. The first movement begins in an unsettled way but quickly shrugs off its instability; a serious movement this, with little in the way of levity but abounding in beautiful tunes nevertheless. The short second movement is one that fairly zips along with each instrument taking turns to pursue the other, making for a comic interlude in what is otherwise a pretty serious work and the last movement certainly has its moments of pathos, though laced with Gál’s characteristic gentility.

The disc is a winning combination of brilliantly written works of great skill, full of ravishingly attractive tunes and two committed musicians whose respect for the music shines through every note. Alfia Nakipbekova is one of the Bekova sisters whose trio has rightly been making waves for many years, and whose cello playing is often revelatory, while Jakob Fichert is a truly fine pianist who is a perfect partner here. A fabulous disc of marvellous music intelligently and beautifully interpreted.

Steve Arloff

Previous reviews: Jonathan Woolf ~ Byzantion



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