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Hans Gál (1890-1987)
Piano Quartet in A Major (1926)
Suite for piano Op. 24 (1922)
Concertino for piano and string orchestra Op. 43 (1934)
Impromptu (1940)
Gottlieb Wallisch (piano)
Hartmut Rohde (viola)
Aron Quartett
Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra/Hartmut Rohde
rec. 2019, Vienna
CPO 555 276-2 [59]

German composer Hans Gál was born in a village in the environs of Vienna. Having studied music history at the University of Vienna he took a course of private lessons with Eusebius Mandyczewski. Around the time of the Great War, he made a name for himself as a composer of operas. In 1928 his Sinfonietta (later retitled ‘Symphony No 1’) secured a prize in the Columbia Schubert Centenary competition. For a few years he presided over the music department at Mainz University but his Jewish forebears were soon used as the basis for his ejection. Return to Vienna turned out to be a temporary expedient and he ended up taking uncomfortable refuge in the UK. Interned as an “enemy alien”, he was offered a post in Edinburgh University by his friend Donald Tovey and Scotland became his home for the rest of his life.

His music is driven by melody; not for him the contortions of the Second Viennese School. He wrote extensively and in addition to his four operas there is much else including four symphonies (review ~ review ~ review ~ review), concertos for violin, cello and piano, chamber music including four string quartets and many pieces for solo piano. This merely scratches the surface. There is also quite a list of works for recorder and for mandolin. His music made little headway on disc until the late 1990s. Now a trickle of discs has developed into a far-from-modest stream. Much has been achieved; much remains to be achieved. I rather hope for first recordings of his two large-scale cantatas for voices and orchestra.

The present CPO disc opens our ears and minds to unfailingly lyrical music lifted by a lightness of heart that communicates to the musicians. There’s a substantial quartet for piano (left-hand) violin, viola and cello. Predictably this was written for and dedicated to Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961). Its aerated qualities are largely impressionistic and when they are not Gallic then - particularly in the quartet - they put me in mind of Herbert Howells’ Piano Quartet (1916). This just goes to show that Josef Schelb (1894–1977) was not the only German-speaking melodist-impressionist. There is a poignant sweet wistfulness about this music and that applies to all four movements. The five movement Suite for piano (1922) is the earliest piece here. More light-suffused and touching writing is on parade here. It darts to and fro and delights in criss-crossing the line between salon¸ ballroom and concert hall. Composer parallels include such ill-assorted voices as those of Billy Mayerl, Reginald King and Gabriel Fauré. The Concertino for piano and string orchestra, in three movements, is a little charmer. It is lightweight, in the same constituency as the like works by George Dyson, Armstrong Gibbs, Gordon Jacob, Cyril Rootham and Madeleine Dring. There’s even an Elgarian caste to the first movement and a Grainger-like accent in the finale. The last track is a brief (3:45) and melancholy Impromptu for viola and piano.

The booklet notes are by Michael Haas in German and with an English translation.

Given the turns and twists in his life Gál had much to be bitter about. It says much for the man that his internal creative voices, as enunciated through this music, suggest more of the angel preoccupied with loveliness than the avenging spirit. Then again, perhaps his revenge was paid out in the currency of beauty.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: John France

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