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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Concertino for cello & string orchestra, Op. 87 (1965) [24:30]
Sonata for solo cello, Op. 109a (1982) [20:36]
Suite for solo cello, Op. 109b (1982) [22:26]
Matthew Sharp (cello)
English Chamber Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
rec. 2017, Shire Hall, Hereford (Op. 37); Church of St. Peter, Evercreech, Somerset (Op. 109ab)
AVIE AV2380 [68:04]

On the Avie label, cellist Matthew Sharp gives the world premiere recording of Austro/German composer Hans Gál’s Cello Concertino that has had to wait over fifty years since its composition. The album also includes two works for solo cello among Gál’s final works composed when he was aged ninety-two.

Once acclaimed by the central European music establishment, Gál’s music did experience a golden period from the end of the Great War to the very early 1930s when it was championed by influential conductors: Szell, Furtwängler, Keilberth, Kleiber, Prohaska, Busch and Weingartner. Markedly his Overture to a Puppet Play (1923) became an international success, with overa hundred performances (I have yet to hear it). In the 1930s, after the rise of Hitler and National Socialism, Gál who was Jewish was dismissed from his post as Director of Mainz Conservatory, and his music was banned. Fearful of his life, he was forced to flee mainland Europe to Britain, finally settling in Edinburgh.

Gál’s writing did not embrace the form of the Second Viennese School or twelve-tone music. In the three or so decades after World War Two, Gál’s style of composition was judged unfashionable, even anachronistic. Taste in music had rapidly changed and the late and post-Romantics of Gál’s time become marginalised by composing tonal music in the manner of a bygone generation. Consequently their music moved into virtual obscurity. However, in the last years of his life, Gál’s music experienced increased public attention with the first British radio broadcast of his cycle of four string quartets and the cantata De Profundis. In the past decade or so there has been a growing number of recordings of Gal’s works and some occasional performances. Gál wrote one hundred-and-seventy-four scores in a wide range of genres, of which some one-hundred-and-ten were published. It seems that over a fifty-year association with Scotland more than half of Gál’s scores were composed in his adopted country.

The key work here is Gál’s Concertino for cello and string orchestra, written when he was seventy-five. Despite the implication of its name, this is a substantial work lasting almost twenty-five minutes. In fact, all Gál’s five concertinos are scored for strings as opposed to full orchestra. It was Sinfonieorchester des Südwestrundfunks that premiered the score in 1968. Incidentally, the soloist here, Matthew Sharp, gave the first modern performance of the score in 2013 with the English Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Woods at Christ Church, Malvern. The Cello Concertino opens with a squally Molto moderato – Quasi allegro movement ranging in mood from a sense of serious formality to a glorious passion; an undertow of pain and sorrow is never far away. Marked Adagio, the lyrical central movement is yearning and impassioned, with the cello predominantly in its low register. Here it is hard to determine if Gál’s inspiration is love or loss. There is a whimsical feel to the Finale: Allegretto ritenuto assai which contrasts with a serious side. Here the string orchestra writing evokes the British light music scene in the manner of Ronald Binge, Vivian Ellis and Eric Coates.

Amongst the final scores of his life, Gál’s works for solo cello the Sonata and Suite were both written in 1982 and published together with the same opus number. The more resolute of the pair, the cello sonata, is dedicated to soloist Rudolf Metzmacher. The Suite is dedicated to the composer’s grandson Simon Fox-Gál who played the instrument for a time.

The three-movement Solo Cello Sonata is an impressive score, commencing with a substantial Andante - Allegro comodo movement that feels earnest and determined in character. There is a curious disposition to the strict central movement Quasi menuetto lento which suggests being forced to dance against one’s will and the results scrutinised. A change of mood for the Finale: Vivace evokes to me a scene of the exploring activities of a playful and rumbustious child.

The Solo Cello Suite opens with a serious and resolute Introduzione e Fughetta, with the cello playing mainly in the low range. It is very intense, with a character that feels almost claustrophobic. Marked Alla Marcia, the dance-like writing feels strict and a sense of being under observation and the sober Cavatina evokes the strain of concentrating on a complicated task. The Rondino Finale evokes searching or pining maybe for a loved one, so restless in mood.

Cello soloist Matthew Sharp plays outstandingly throughout, with deep concentration and a telling blend of artistry and control. Striking are the vivid colours and glorious tone he produces on his cello, a copy of the ex-Pergamenschikow Montagnana by Robin Aitchison.
In the Cello Concertino one senses the calm assurance of Kenneth Woods conducting the English Chamber Orchestra who play with vibrancy and a convincing feel for the idiom.

The Concertino was recorded at Shire Hall, Hereford, and the solo cello works at Church of St. Peter, Evercreech, Somerset. They have vividly clear sound with excellent balance. The booklet in this impressively presented album contains Kenneth Woods’s informative and interesting essay.

This Hans Gál album features the world premiere recording of the Cello Concertino that is undoubtedly a valuable discovery.

Michael Cookson
Previous review: Bob Stevenson



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