Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 67 (1944) [33:46]
Mario CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO (1895-1968)
Cello Concerto in F major (1935) [31:48]*
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Nicholas Minton
rec. 2016, Großer Saal, Konzerthaus, Berlin
World premiere recording*
CPO 555 074-2 [65:39]
Upon receiving this disc for review, I discovered that it launches a series by CPO, in collaboration with the cellist Raphael Wallfisch. It is subtitled ‘Voices in the Wilderness - Cello Concertos by Exiled Jewish Composers’. For Wallfisch, the project has a very personal slant. His ambition and 'life mission' is to champion Jewish composers who were silenced by the Third Reich and fled their country of origin to survive. His own parents survived the holocaust and settled in England. His emotional attachment to the music enables him to approach this venture with a sense of 'extreme pride and gratitude'.
When Hitler came to power in 1933 Hans Gál saw the writing on the wall and eventually fled to England in 1938. He spent an initial period of internment in the Isle of Man. In 1942 his mother died and his aunt and sister took their own lives shortly after to avoid deportation to Auschwitz. Later that same year his 18 year old son Peter committed suicide. After his release Gál relocated to Edinburgh, where he remained for the rest of his life. He worked for some time as a caretaker at an abandoned girl’s school. It is against this dark and tragic backdrop that the Cello Concerto was written.
It’s a deeply personal work, with two lengthier outer movements framing a shorter lyrical Andante. Compared to the Castelnuovo-Tedesco, the composer scores it for more modest forces, with no percussion, but retaining timpani. The music is tonally accessible and imbued with enchanting lyricism. The opening movement has an improvisatory feel about it, intensely rhapsodic with a yearning nostalgia. The composer inserts a brief cadenza fairly early-on. I sense a melancholic vein throughout the work. The central movement I can only describe as a reflective musing, embellished with some bewitching woodwind writing. In the spirited finale Gál ups the rhetoric, infusing energy and vitality into the music. Wallfisch's playing sparkles with effervescence, verve and vigour, with Minton keeping a tight rein on the rhythm. The work seems to encompass the entire register of the cello. I was surprised to discover that this is not the Concerto’s first recording. That honour goes to the cellist Antonio Meneses with the Northern Sinfonia under Claudio Cruz (Avie AV2237 - review), who recorded it in 2012.
Gál wasn't working to a commission, had no soloist in mind and a performance at the time seemed unlikely. It had to wait until 1950 for a Swedish premiere by the cellist Guido Vecchi with the Göteborg Orchestra under Armando La Rosa Parodi. Castelnuovo-Tedesco, on the other hand, composed his Concerto to a commission by Gregor Piatigorsky, who premiered it in New York in 1935 with Arturo Toscanini. The composer had fled Europe and settled in Hollywood, much the same as Korngold did, with both composing film music in their new setting. Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto provides a startling contrast to the Gál. For a start, the orchestral requirements are greater, with an extensive percussion section called for. Moreover, the overall mood is upbeat. The solo cello initiates proceedings stating the assertive martial theme of the opening movement. The composer treats us to generous helpings of melodic ideas. There's a cadenza towards the end, which Wallfisch dispatches with aplomb. An easy-going Andante, which doesn't seem to have a care in the world, follows. The finale asserts itself forcefully from the very opening measures. This is followed immediately by a cadenza. The movement’s jaunty swagger and buoyant rhythms are an attractive element.
This is a world premiere recording. Apparently Piatigorsky jealously guarded the score, and when he did finally drop it from his repertoire, cellists were reluctant to take it up. Thanks to Wallfisch's enthusiastic advocacy and championing of the work, we can now enjoy its delights.
All concerned deliver compelling performances of these captivating scores. The musicians have been beautifully recorded, and balance between soloist and orchestra is ideal. Booklet notes are excellent and provide informative background. This is an auspicious start to a new series.