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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Chamber Music - Volume 3
Piano Quartet in B flat major, Op. 13 (1914) [31:16]
Three Sonatinas for violin and piano, Op. 71 (1956): No.1 in G major [8:52]: No.2 in B flat major [11:29]: No.3 in F major [10:31]
Sonatina in F major (1934) [9:18]
Katalin Kertész (violin)
Nichola Blakey (viola)
Cressida Nash (cello)
Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)
rec. 2017, Johnson Hall, Millfield School, Somerset, UK
TOCCATA TOCC0433 [71:26]

Toccata’s Hans Gál series, with its various sub-sets, has now reached the third volume of his chamber music and contrasts the passionate Brahmsian Piano Quartet with the more Schubertian charms of the little Sonatinas of 1956.

As there’s no autograph score, the date of the Quartet is conjectural though there are very good reasons for believing it was composed in 1914. It was written in his native Vienna and the first documented performance seems to have taken place in the city in 1920. It was published two years later and enjoyed real success during that decade and beyond. It’s easy to see why from this big, bold performance as the work has a confident and sturdy late-Romanticism that offers plenty of opportunities for probing musicianship; the composer himself often played the piano part in early performances and Sarah Beth Briggs acquits herself well in the same role. There are rather Slavic elements and a rhapsodic feel to the first movement, which is followed by a delightfully rocking lullaby and an athletic scherzo replete with crisp piano chording. Gál enjoys quietly side-stepping expectations and opens the finale quietly before unleashing some especially self-confident material with a March element embedded. This is a youthful, dramatic, full-bloodied work with strongly expressive components.

The Sonatinas for violin and piano were composed in Edinburgh for his then twelve-year-old daughter, Eva Fox-Gál, whose booklet notes are full of finely structured detail about the music. Clearly, the three pieces are not couched in the virtuoso school but are idiomatic, charming and graceful. Highlights include the light-hearted Theme and Variations movement of the G major, the fugal feints of the opening of the B flat major, with its gentle, songful Cavatina central movement and whimsical March, and the guitar imitations in the Italianate song that sits happily as the central movement of the F major. The unpublished Sonatina in F major is a much earlier work, dating from 1934, and composed for his son Peter, then aged eleven. Aerial, wistful and full of frolic, this was later rescored and expanded for strings in five movements. It was in the form of the Serenade for Strings, Op.46 that it became his first work to be published in Britain, by Novello in 1942, and one of his most popular too.

This is a most enjoyable continuation of this series. If I find the recorded acoustic rather flat, as I do, it doesn’t especially diminish enjoyment of these alternately fiery and sensitive performances.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank




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