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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

Three emigrés: Gál, Gerhard and Goldschmidt

What's in a name? Or more particularly, what's in the first letter of a (sur)name? For many people, the three finest composers ever to set crotchet to stave are Bach (J.S.), Beethoven and Brahms (though increasingly some might substitute Bruckner for the last-named), and more than one composer/arranger in the world of commercial pop has named an alternate trilogy of Bach, Bartók and the Beatles as being formative influences on their careers. In the twentieth century, the Germanic symphonic tradition was kept alive by Hindemith, Karl Amadeus Hartmann and Henze (albeit somewhat hit-and-miss in the early stages of Henze's output) above all others. These last three shared more than just the initial letter of their surname, not least varying degrees of discomfiture initiated by the Nazi regime and periods of exile or emigration (internal in Hartmann's case) from their homeland. Britain, like the United States, became a haven for many such displaced composers, three of the most accomplished being the Austro-Hungarian Hans Gál (1890-1987), the Catalan Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970; of Swiss-German parentage), and Berthold Goldschmidt (1903-96). Gál and Goldschmidt were forced to flee from Hitler's Reich because of their Jewish ancestry; Gerhard was a political refugee from Franco's Spain.

Gál was a composer of traditionalist bearing. Born in what are now the outskirts of Vienna, as a boy he lived in a building one of the other (elderly) occupants of which had - also as a child - once thrown snowballs at Beethoven! Gál studied piano with Richard Robert (teacher of Clara Haskil, Rudolf Serkin and Georg Szell), counterpoint with Brahms' erstwhile familiar Eusebius Mandyczewski, and music history with Guido Adler. In the fullness of time he became a prolific and distinguished composer, with four operas, four symphonies (the fourth a 'sinfonia concertante' with flute, clarinet, violin and cello soli), three concertos (violin, piano, cello), four concertinos (piano, violin, organ, cello), and a Suite for viola or saxophone and orchestra; many other orchestral works including the Pickwickian Overture (1939-44), Idyllikon (1958-9) and Triptych (1970), plus several for mandolin orchestra; four string quartets (broadcast on Radio 3 in the late 1980s), a string quintet, clarinet quintet, piano quartet, piano trio, clarinet trio; sonatas, sonatinas and suites for a variety of instruments; many songs and choral works including a large scale cantata, De profundis (1948).

As a composer, Gál never adopted a particularly radical stamp (one of the main reasons for his music's neglect in the post-war artistic climate). He felt serialism to be a fundamentally misconceived approach to composition but harmonically his works were often not unadventurous, though operating within a firmly tonal universe. Only three works are currently available: Promenade Music for wind band, a rattlingly boisterous score written for the 1926 Donaueschingen Festival, the lovely Serenade for string orchestra (1942; probably Gál's most broadcast work) and Clarinet Sonata, Op. 84 (1964). Fine as these are, they are insufficient to provide a true perspective on his output or a firm idea of his expressive range. The four symphonies and four string quartets are perhaps the most pressing items for recording, the former leavened with some of the smaller orchestral overtures; the three concertos (with their matching concertinos) also deserve attention. It is a great shame that Georg Tintner, who recorded the Serenade and made such an impression with his Bruckner cycle for Naxos, could not have moved on to Gál's symphonies before he died. With similarly sympathetic direction, such as from a Järvi, Welser-Möst or Gary Brain (who has done a tremendous job for Czeslaw Marek on Koch), this music would make a tremendous impression, and given that around half of it was written during Gál's Scottish exile, can legitimately be considered at least in part British.

Roberto (or Robert, which is the Catalan form) Gerhard was born in Valls, not far from Barcelona and Tarragona. During the early part of the First World War he studied with Enrique Granados, but when Granados was killed when the S.S. Sussex was torpedoed by a German submarine in the English Channel, Gerhard switched to Granados' former master, the composer and ethnomusicologist Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922), whose previous students had also included Albéniz and de Falla. Following Pedrell's death, Gerhard opted not to pursue the nationalist aspirations of his teacher or those, mingled with Stravinskyan neo-Classicism, of de Falla and his acolytes (including, for example, Ernesto Halffter). Instead, he went to Berlin in 1925 to study with Arnold Schönberg. The Austrian provided Gerhard with an intellectual rigour and technique that he could not have acquired in Spain, and which stood him in good stead in the post-Second war period. Gerhard returned to Barcelona in 1928 with his Viennese fiancée Leopoldina (Poldi) Feichtegger but kept in touch with Schönberg, who with his wife stayed with the Gerhards for eight months during 1931-2. In January 1939 Franco's victory in the Spansh Civil War and suppression of Catalan autonomy forced Gerhard and his wife to flee to France. After a brief spell near Paris, they settled in Cambridge, where Gerhard died thirty years later.

During much of his time in England Gerhard remained, like Gál, an obscure figure known mainly only to the cognoscenti. However, Gerhard had a couple of lucky breaks with the successful premieres of the ballet Don Quixote at Covent Garden in 1950 and of his First Symphony at the ISCM festival in Baden-Baden in 1955. From then on, commissions began to come his way (e.g. from the BBC in 1957 for the Second Symphony) and he eventually secured a settled relationship with the publisher OUP. During William Glock's period at the BBC, Gerhard's music was performed with increasing regularity in modern music programmes. Three more symphonies followed (he was working on a Fifth when he died) plus a Concerto for orchestra (1965), a large-scale cantata drawn from Albert Camus' La Peste (1963-4) and three pieces in an 'astrological series', Gemini (1966), Libra (1968) and Leo (1969).

Gerhard's First, Third and Fourth Symphonies all made it onto LP, but had to more than wait their turn to appear on CD. Those vinyl age recordings are still unavailable, but the cycle of four symphonies are now represented by two complete recordings, one from the French label Auvidis Montaigne (originally, though, on Auvidis Valois) as part of a complete edition of Gerhard's works, the other from the British label Chandos. Auvidis' recordings have the works paired, No. 1 with the Third, Collages (1960) for tape and orchestra, and the Second, in its 1967-8 revision entitled Metamorphoses completed by Alan Boustead (Gerhard having died before he could complete it, and having set it aside to work on the abortive Fifth), with No. 4, the New York (so-called only because it was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and not to indicate any illustrative aspect in the music of the metropolis). The performances of the symphonies by the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra under Victor Pablo Pérez are not the most polished, perhaps, but there is plenty of commitment and passion to their playing, and Pérez clearly has the measure of Gerhard's complex structures. Comparing them with their LP forebears from the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Antál Doráti (No. 1, Decca) and Frederick Prausnitz (Collages, for HMV), the Auvidis performances come out on top, the Tenerifans making more of Gerhard's mercurial invention. Better still, though, are the BBC Symphony's second runs at these works, under Matthias Bamert. Helped by Chandos' rich, warm sound, Gerhard's textures sound brightly as never before, and are delivered with absolute precision. Auvidis' sound is occasionally a little two-dimensional. The differences between the Pérez and Bamert sets are most noticeable in the First and Third, where the BBC players' technique wins out. Bamert's grasp of Gerhard's compositional logic and sound-world is total and his versions of both symphonies are the best to have been set down. The different versions of the Second make comparisons in execution impossible (although fascinating musically), but in the Fourth honours are even; indeed, it could be argued that Pérez has a slight edge in the way he makes the music so expressive.

Chandos have not restricted themselves to the symphonies either, but mix them with other orchestral works. The First is coupled with Olivier Charlier's revelatory account of the Violin Concerto of 1942-3, the Second (here in its original 1957-9 version showing it to be in many respects a revisiting of the First - compare the opening passages of the two works and you will hear what I mean) with the magnificent orchestral Concerto, the Third with the fine Piano Concerto (1950-1) and orchestral Epithalamion (1966), and the New York with the orchestral suite from the ballet Pandora (1944-5). Chandos have also recorded the whole of the early symphony, Homenaje a Pedrell (1940-1), only the third movement of which, the well-known Pedrelliana, has been covered by Auvidis. My recommendation would certainly go first to Chandos' series, and I hope they will in time add the revised Metamorphosis to their set. I also find their more varied programmes set Gerhard's music off in the best possible light. However, if the symphonies are the main concern, the Auvidis set is still more than acceptable, and one can add the Chandos Concerto/Symphony No. 2-perhaps the finest single disc of Gerhard currently on the market-and Homenaje a Pedrell discs for completeness.

The French label have started to turn their attention to Gerhard's concertos with a disc of the Piano and Harpsichord Concertos (which latter Chandos coupled with Homenaje a Pedrell) and the 1956-7 Nonet all performed by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under Lawrence Foster. The Auvidis performance of the Harpsichord Concerto is a real delight; crisply played and very truthfully balanced, all the delicacy and bite of Gerhard's early radicalism shine through. Ursula Dütschler and Foster work well together, and overall surpass Tozer and Bamert on Chandos despite the qualitative edge of the British recording; there is also the matter of the missing harpsichord entry at the start of the Chandos slow movement exposed by the late Lionel Salter when reviewing the disc for Gramophone. In the Piano Concerto, Tozer's account on Chandos is vibrantly played (no mishaps with missing bars here) with nothing to choose between him and Attenelle on Auvidis; choice here lies with the couplings, but Auvidis' superior version of the Harpsichord Concerto and bonus of the marvellous Nonet should outweigh any concerns over duplicating the Piano Concerto or Third Symphony.

The Pandora suite apart, Chandos' only excursion into Gerhard's stage or vocal output has been with the sparkling opera The Duenna ("La Dueña" in Spanish, "La Dueon" in Catalan) in a wonderfully vital, enthusiastic performance from Opera North directed by Antonio Ros Marbà, who conducted the groundbreaking Madrid-Barcelona co-production in 1992. Not the least remarkable aspect of the opera is the brilliance of Gerhard's word setting, he having created the libretto from Sheridan's famous comedy. (It should be remembered, though, that the version recorded is that by David Drew, made in 1991 but on the basis of Gerhard's own intentions and incorporating some new text.)

Some early reviewers made much of the inexperience of some members of the cast, but listening to this terrific set again one is struck by their unreserved commitment and the fine ensemble of the company overall, plus some splendid individual performances, not least from Richard van Allan as Don Jerome or Claire Powell in the title role. Composed in the still 'Spanish-sounding' idiom of his music in the 1940s (though here and there are tell-tale signs that he was domiciled in Britain) rather than the more challenging cerebral manner that came later, it is a real treat, full of scintillating tunes and orchestration and should frighten no-one (other than avowed opera-haters). So, too, in their much smaller ways, are the series of ballets that Gerhard composed in the 1930s and 1940s, which Auvidis have been recording, either with the Tenerife orchestra under Pérez or the Barcelona orchestra under Edmon Colomer. Probably the best known of these still are the "divertissement flamenco" Alegrías (1942), which Pérez and the Tenerifans recorded ironically for Etcetera and which Auvidis have not yet issued, and Don Quixote (1940-1, revised 1947-9) - or rather the 1947 suite of Dances with which Doráti coupled his disc of the First Symphony. At present, only the full 1-act ballet is in the catalogue (MO782114), coupled with the 1-act Ariel (1934-6), Albada, Interludi i Dansa (1936), the orchestral Pandora (the original having been scored for 2 pianos and percussion) and David Atherton's 1972 performing suite from Soirées de Barcelona (1936-9). As with their recordings of the symphonies, Auvidis' accounts are more than mere stop-gaps, the sound perfectly serviceable. Should Chandos ever cover this repertoire, however, the competition will be stiff.

The Dances from Don Quixote, Soirées de Barcelona, Alegrías and Pandora suite have all been recorded in their smaller-scale piano/piano+ versions. Jordi Masó recorded the first two in his survey of the complete Gerhard piano music for Marco Polo (with Gerhard's pupil Joaquin Homs' Second Sonata as a filler). While his performances are nicely prepared, they are a little wanting in passion sometimes; take the "Cave of Montesinos" section in the Quixote Dances, for example, which sounds rather flat when compared against Doráti's orchestral version. In these and in the two concert works, the Dos Apunts ("Two Sketches", 1922) and 3 Impromptus (1958), Masó is not preferable to Andrew Ball and Julian Jacobson on Largo 5119, which is still available even though it is not listed in the R.E.D. ex-Gramophone Catalogue. Ball and Jacobson omitted the Quixote Dances for Pandora (with percussionist Richard Benjafield) and the 2-piano Alegrías creating a very fine, all-Gerhard issue.

Auvidis have charted Gerhard's small but high-quality vocal output in a 2-disc set (again originally available separately), excluding La Dueña but, because of the awkward durations of the works, including three not insubstantial orchestral works. The first disc, the first volume of Auvidis' Gerhard edition, in fact, features the large cantata The Plague (1963-4), based on Albert Camus' searing allegory of Nazi-occupied France set in plague-ridden Oran. In structure the cantata is a series of musical tableaux punctuating and expanding on the spoken selections from Camus' text - declaimed in English - which Gerhard felt encompasd the essence of the tale (and which he achieved most successfully, the whole building to the graphic, horrifying passage dealing with the death of a child, one of the blackest and most powerful passages in the entire novel). Comparisons of the way he set the English texts of La Dueña and The Plague reveal clearly how his expressive vision and technical resource changed between the nationalist tone of his early works and the more avant garde, exploratory later style. Yet both are as effective in their word-setting as each other. Auvidis wisely brought in the BBC Symphony Chorus to join the Spanish National Youth Orchestra for their account, though used the distinguished French actor Michael Lonsdale (familiar from several well-known films, such as The Day of the Jackal and Moonraker) in the role of the speaker. This attracted much (largely unfavourable) comment on the disc's release in 1996, especially with the memory of the work's Proms performance the previous year with the same forces but Jack Shepherd as narrator. Critics picked up on Lonsdale's pronunciation - a few words are oddly emphasised, but only one, "pertubed" instead of "perturbed", mispronounced outright. If I have a criticism of Lonsdale's performance it is that he sounds as if he is watching the conductor too intently, treating his monologues as complete and separate in themselves without trying to integrate them into the sonic flow as did Alec McCowan on the old, long-deleted Decca recording from the early 1970s. Otherwise, Lonsdale was a most apposite choice - the story is French, after all, about French people albeit told in English with music by a Catalan; the spoken accent, like the music's, is just another item of tonal colour.

Auvidis' coupling was the purely orchestral Epithalamion, written two years later in 1966 but revised extensively in 1969, and one of Gerhard's most vivid later works. Its appeal lies partly in the expert orchestration for a very large body of players, with a huge array of percussion requiring eight players (including two timpanists). Quite what prompted this nuptial song is a mystery, but it was composed very quickly, in under two months. Malcolm MacDonald speculates in the notes to the Auvidis recording that the speed of composition may be due to Gerhard's having recycled unused sections of his 1963 film music to Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life (itself in the pipeline from NMC) in it; if so, it might also explain in part its descriptive character. The Spanish Youth Orchestra have a really fine stab at it, and are disadvantaged only by the precision of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, specialists in this kind of repertoire, for Chandos.

Auvidis' second vocal disc is also very worthwhile, featuring five works written between the composer's return from Berlin and the first full year of his English exile (1941). The earliest items are instrumental, the two Sardanas (the Catalan national dance), written in 1928 for the "cobla", a local ensemble of wind instruments, bass and drum. The first, however, is given here in Gerhard's 1958 arrangement for a standard wind ensemble only, but there would have been plenty of room for both versions; Auvidis missed a trick here. That notwithstanding, this is an excellent disc, expanding our view of the composer (almost exclusively coloured hitherto by his more radical later works) with the delightful Cancionero de Pedrell ("Pedrell Songbook", 1941) and earlier 6 Popular Catalan Songs (1928-31), plus the marvellous cantata L'alta naixença del rei en Jaume ("The noble birth of the sovereign lord King James", 1932). The 6 Popular Catalan Songs began life in a collection of 14 (1928-9) with piano accompaniment, orchestrated in 1931 and premiered in Vienna under (of all people) Webern the following year. Between them they contain references to the sardana and other Catalan dances, as well as a motif that recurs in Gerhard's music throughout his career (finally in the New York Symphony). In these and the Cancionero, Gerhard shows himself contentedly the nationalist composer in the mould of Pedrell and de Falla, while the cantata reveals a composer whose musical vision could embrace the larger forms, not least in the passacaglia, despite the ironic nature of the story (a tale of the conception of the Catalonian king Jaume I, when his mother substituted herself for one of her husband's - King Pere II's - mistresses). The cantata is a fine work, wonderfully sung by the Coral Cármina.

Gerhard's chamber output, the three "astrological" works aside, remain unknown territory for most listeners. Gerhard's two numbered string quartets are both fine works, dating from 1950-5 and 1960-2 respectively, though seemingly the fourth and fifth that he wrote. The first two have long been lost, while the third - which dates from the closing period of study with Schönberg - has recently been rediscovered (according to Julian White's note for Métier's excellent disc of the two mature quartets). No. 1 then comes from the period of the Piano Concerto and First Symphony when, having got La Dueña out of his system his style began to change into something more astringent and radical. As with the First Symphony, Gerhard's First Quartet uses his own personal take on the twelve-note method, but within the traditional four-movement framework. The first movement (1950) functions as an acceptable sonata structure, Gerhard aping the tonal motion expected of the form by quasi-chordal subdivisions of the note rows. Gerhard seemingly waited until 1955 before adding the remaining movements, a delicate, sparkling scherzo Con vivacita, an intense, rigourously controlled slow movement (Grave), and a mercurial, at times disembodied final Molto allegro. Quartet no. 2 is quite different: a little over half the length of its predecessor and comprising seven study-like sections unified into a continuous whole. The layout has obvious resemblances to the contemporary Third Symphony; starting from an initial Lento, the quartet passes through a variety of speeds and tonal landscapes, like a set of variations not on a theme so much as an entire musical tradition. It is an enduringly fascinating work that repays close study and repeated hearings, especially in such a sympathetic performance as here from the Kreutzer Quartet (first violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved provides a secondary note). Although the disc is only 38 minutes in duration (one might have hoped for the missing early third quartet - or should it be termed No. 0'? - or the unrecorded Wind Quintet written at the close of his studies with Schönberg) at mid-price one cannot reasonably quibble. Highly recommended.

So too is Métier's other chamber disc, performed by the piano trio Cantamen, which features some real rarities and extraordinary pieces. Best known is the violin and piano 'duo concertante' Gemini (for which see below), but the two pieces that made most impression on me were the Cello Sonata of 1956 (a reworking in part of a 1946 Viola Sonata - can we have this soon, too, please?) and the Chaconne for solo violin written three years later. It is a remarkable fusion of serial procedure with folk-like material, all the more so because it appears to be done in so relaxed and natural a manner. The Chaconne is more straightforwardly serial, though its twelve sections are far from straightforward. It poses considerable technical challenges (well, it was written for Yfrah Neaman) and is played by Caroline Balding with astonishing aplomb. And if that was not sufficient, Cantamen give us the apprentice Piano Trio of 1918: dedicated to Pedrell, there is not a trace of the familiar later Gerhard, or even the composer of the 1930s vocal works. As Meirion Bowen points out in the booklet, its Spanish character seems viewed from a French perspective, and there is more than a hint of Debussyan and Ravellian impressionism in its three extended movements (it plays for a touch short of half-an-hour). An obviously early essay, it is overlong but never unwelcomely so, and a gift for those who like to tease their guests' "innocent ears".

The finest chamber disc devoted to Gerhard yet issued, however, is that performed by the Nieuw Ensemble under Ed Spanjaard for Largo. This brings together the three 'astrological' pieces, Gemini, Libra and Leo, with the 3 Impromptus and Concert for 8 (1962). To refer to Gemini, Libra and Leo as the astrological series is perhaps misleading, since in truth there is really only a pair - Libra was Poldi Gerhard's star sign, Leo Gerhard's - while the name Gemini was only added for publication four years after his 'duo concertante' had been written, to avoid being confused with Stravinsky's. They receive highly virtuosic performances from the Dutch ensemble, who outclass even Cantamen's version of Gemini, while John Snijders' account of the Impromptus is second to none. The accounts of Libra, Leo and the Concert for 8 are wonderfully precise and beautifully clear; everything can be heard and the music - which if not balanced carefully can become mush with the interweaving of the lines and sonorities (so that one cannot hear the wood for the trees, as it were) - allowed to achieve the composer's expressive purpose.

Berthold Goldschmidt's career is possibly the most extraordinary, in terms of the vicissitudes of fortune, of any composer of the twentieth century. In the 1920s he was a wunderkind both as a composer-with a publishing contract from Universal at the age of 24-and conductor (as assistant to Erich Kleiber in Berlin and later at Darmstadt). The installation of the Nazi regime in 1933 destroyed his career almost overnight, though he did not leave Germany for over three years. Arriving in Britain, employment was scarce, although he did work with the overseas service of the BBC and the Jooss Ballet Company (for whom Gerhard would compose Pandora). His compositional career was divided in two by a twenty-four-year hiatus occasioned by the indifference of the establishment and his sense of cultural alienation, focussed on his second opera, Beatrice Cenci, which won a prize in the opera competition for the 1951 Festival of Britain but failed to secure a performance (it was finally premiered in concert only in 1988). After 1958 he produced nothing-beyond advising Deryck Cooke with his "performing edition" of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, the first version of which he premiered in 1964-until the rediscovery of his music initiated by Bernard O'Keefe induced him to resume for the last twelve years of his long life. His final years were crowned with one triumph after another, as his string quartets and orchestral works were taken up to great acclaim, and his operas were recorded and staged, even in Germany. When he died, Goldschmidt had become one of the leading living composers-a role many would aver he should have attained much earlier in his career.

Goldschmidt's two operas are both centred on women and the outrageous treatment meted out to them, though their style and ethos could hardly be more different. In Der gewaltige Hahnrei ("The Magnificent Cuckold"), based on a controversial satire by Belgian playwright Fernand Crommelynck, Goldschmidt produced not a comic opera-with the character of, for instance, Nielsen's Maskarade-but an opera of the absurd in which comedy and the potential for tragedy run hand-in-hand. Goldschmidt's score pulls few punches, although the original productions were officially censored so that when Bruno-the magnificent cuckold of the title-endeavours to provoke the seduction of his wife, Stella, by forcing her to expose a breast to her cousin Petrus, she had merely to untie her long hair. The opera's conclusion also avoids the de rigueur happy ending and resolution required of opera buffa: Bruno is left deserted convinced of the rightness of his suspicions as Stella reluctantly leaves him in exasperation and to prevent a murder. Beatrice Cenci, its libretto taken from Shelley's violent and bloodthirstly verse-play, is out-and-out tragedy with no comedic aspect at all. The musical portrait of the monstrous Count Cenci is chillingly drawn, while the suffering of the abused and condemned Beatrice is most movingly achieved.

The music of both operas is genuinely symphonic and eminently theatrical in equal measure despite their diverse characters. Unusually both have been recorded-ironically for different companies-by the same core team: Roberta Alexander as leading lady, with the Berlin Radio Chorus and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin directed by Lothar Zagrosek, produced by Michael Haas. Both accounts are magnificent, blessed by splendid sound and excellent casts. In Hahnrei for Decca, Robert Wörle finds the right balance for the self-deceiving Bruno, avoiding the pitfall of over-the-top caricature, with Alexander increasingly exasperated by his unfounded suspicions; Helen Lawrence-who first sang the role of Beatrice Cenci-is here the aged nurse Mémé. In the later work, Simon Estes' portrait of Count Cenci is quite magnificent, but Roberta Alexander is his match in her remarkable portrayal of the title character. Beatrice Cenci is the finer of the two operas, perhaps Goldschmidt's finest work of all, and Sony's recording does it full justice (although Decca's has the edge in pure sound). The Sony cast is also strong in depth, with Della Jones as Beatrice's step-mother and fellow conspirator, Lucrezia, Endrik Wottrich as the weak and crafty Orsino who precipitates Cenci's murder and then leaves the women to trial and execution, and a young Ian Bostridge playing-prophetically given his recent acclaim as a song recording artist-a singer at the Feast Count Cenci gives in Act 1. Both releases are completed by song sets, Hahnrei by the Six Mediterranean Songs wonderfully sung by John Mark Ainsley with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Zagrosek, Beatrice by four songs for voice and piano ranging in time from 1933 to 1950 and beautifully sung by Iris Vermillion accompanied by the nonagenarian Goldschmidt himself.

For those ill-disposed to opera, it is a great shame that Goldschmidt's output of orchestral music is so scanty. No symphony by him has survived, but his three concertos from the early 1950s have. The first was for violin (1952-3), based on sketches from the early 1930s and initially worked up into a concertino in 1952. Then came the Cello Concerto (1953-4), also based in part on earlier music, in this instance a now-lost Cello Sonata originally written for his friend Emanuel Feuermann in 1932. Lastly came that for clarinet, also begun in 1953 and premiered by Gervase de Peyer in 1955. The concertos' close proximity of completion gives them a decided homogeneity of style, but their musical characters are very different, each derived in large part from Goldschmidt's perception of the instrument's basic character. They also fit neatly onto a single compact disc, which is how Decca released them, rather incongruously in their "Entartete Musik" series-most appropriate for Der gewaltige Hahnrei which was indeed banned by the Nazis, but not the concertos since all three are essentially products of the decade after the Nazis fell. Decca's trio of soloists could scarcely be bettered: Yo-Yo Ma, Sabine Meyer and Chantal Juillet, all in top form. The recording of the lovely Violin Concerto is particularly special for being conducted by the composer.

The sign of a composer having truly "arrived" is when alternative recordings of his major works are made, and this has already started in Goldschmidt's case. David Geringas had set down the Cello Concerto for CPO two years before Ma made his for Decca; it is a fine, sturdy account, and if Ma has the greater eloquence and virtuosity, Geringas' is in no way inadequate as a performance. He was accompanied by the Magdeburg Philharmonic under Mathias Husmann, who also give a good account of themselves in the terrific Ciaconna Sinfonica, which Rattle included at the Proms and then recorded in 1995 for Decca, and the Chronica Suite Goldschmidt assembled variously in the 1950s and 1980s mostly from his ballet score of that name for the Jooss Company. Rattle's account of the Ciaconna is more electric than Husmann's though this may be due partly to the slightly duller acoustic in Magdeburg; it also has the advantage of being coupled with the early Passacaglia for orchestra and the composer directing his delightful Overture The Comedy of Errors and Rondeau for violin and orchestra (again with the sweet-toned Chantal Juillet).

Goldschmidt liked to tell the story of how he once alarmed Shostakovich in 1931 by announcing his intention to set Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk as an opera-which Shostakovich was working on! There are certain superficial parallels between them: they both came to prominence with vibrant orchestral scores in the mid-1920s (both composing piano sonatas shortly after); string quartets feature conspicuously in their catalogues of works-though Goldschmidt's is much tinier; both completed two operas, the first satirical (Shostakovich's being The Nose), the second based on a tragic heroine. Goldschmidt's four string quartets cover almost the whole of his career, the lively First (begun while still a sudent of Schreker's in Berlin) dating from 1925-6 while the Fourth and last was written in 1992. All have been recorded by the Mandelring Quartet for Largo, available across three imaginatively planned discs which coincidentally include all his piano music as well. The First raises a further connexion with Shostakovich, as an issue that has become something of a bugbear to Goldschmidt devotees-the superficial similarity of style of some of Goldschmidt's chamber pieces with early works by the Soviet master. This prompted a stinging general rebuke of the critical fraternity form Bernard O'Keefe in the booklet notes to Der gewaltige Hahnrei which while fair enough to a degree, misses the point that there are indeed very superficial resonances of style between the two composers' early styles. 'Innocent eared' listeners of Quartet no. 1 will often pick this up, and the fact that Shostakovich would not write a quartet for another dozen years afterwards is neither here nor there. The two composers were born just three years apart and evidently shared certain artistic concerns (not just in writing an early piano sonata-rivettingly performed by Kolja Lessing-or being attracted to Lermontov's Katerina Ismailova as a suitable operatic heroine), so such commonalties of manner are inevitable. If there is a piece of Shostakovich that Goldschmidt's First Quartet reminds me of, it's the Russian's First Symphony, written co-evally with the Quartet. Both works are strikingly 'orchestrated' for their ensembles and helped advance their creators' burgeoning reputations-Shostakovich's more internationally it is true, but in Goldschmidt's case it helped secure the support of the publishers Universal and impressed Schönberg sufficiently for the Austrian master to invite Goldschmidt to attend his masterclasses. (Goldschmidt declined; had he not he would certainly have come into contact with Gerhard as a fellow student.) Both works are burlesque in character but have at their heart long slow movements the structural implications of which neither composer solves entirely satisfactorily.

A more profound influence on Goldschmidt's style was Hindemith, though Goldscmidt never studied with him (and indeed was once scathing to me of the Hindemith gang who circled round the composer often restricting access to their teacher). Echoes of Hindemith crop up in all the quartets and pieces like the Piano Trio, idiomatically recorded by the English Piano Trio for Kingdom, but the important point is that Goldschmidt made of these influeces what he wanted. No finer exhibition of that can be heard than his Second Quartet, written in 1936 on the composer's safe arrival in England. A striking first movement confidently overcomes all obstacles and is succeded by one of Goldschmidt's most virtuosic scherzi, a beautiful elegy entitled Folia (in many respects the scherzo's sister), and an invigorating dance-like Presto finale that if nothing else is a long exclamation of relief at finding security. The Mandelring Quartet, occasionally foxed by the First's unorthodoxy of structure, do not set a foot wrong in its successor, which must rank as one of the finest quartets of the inter-war period. It is coupled with two short choral works, Letzte Kapitel ("Last Chapters", 1931)-with its apocalyptic description of Mankind's self-extermination in 2003-and Belsatzar (1985), and the Third Quartet of 1989 which reuses some of Belsatzar's material. The single-movement Third is possibly Goldschmidt's greatest, and was commissioned as a direct result of the much belated German premiere in 1988 of the Second. Its primary musical material is two 'ciphers' (the composer's term) reflecting his native Schleswig-Holstein (SCH-H, i.e. E flat, C, B, B in German notation) and Hamburg (HBG, i.e. B, B flat, G), where he had been born. The work is in many ways Goldschmidt's musical rapprochement with Germany, not unlike Henze's Seventh Symphony in motivation (although entirely different in character and idiom), which had been premiered, curiously, in Berlin only a couple of years earlier. Again the Mandelring are in excellent form, as are the Ars Nova Ensemble of Berlin in the choral numbers. Incidentally, the suspiciously round-numbered disc timings for Belsatzar (5' 00") and the Third Quartet (20' 00") are completely wrong: Belsatzar takes 6' 20", the Quartet 17' 01".

Largo's third disc places a number of miniatures (2 Capriccios, an Encore and some semi-didactic pieces finalized in the late 1950s just before his self-imposed silence) between three important larger works: the string trio Retrospectum (1991, dedicated to his parents), the marvellous Variations on a Palestinian Shepherd's Song (1934, his largest piano work after the Sonata) and the Fourth Quartet (1993). The variety here does give a patchier feel to the whole than the two earlier volumes, but the quality of the music is unmistakeable. The Gaede Trio are immaculate in Retrospectum, a complex elegy to a world long dead. The style of the Fourth Quartet takes its compression and integration, and that of No. 3, still further, making this a work that does not make so immediate an impact as the earlier works in the cycle. Yet the payback from repeated listening renders the effort worthwhile. This disc features Kolja Lessing as both violinist (in the 1991-2 Capriccio) and pianist-acquitting himself equally well in both disciplines, though Largo resisted the temptation of multi-tracking him in both parts of the Encore for violin and piano.

Performances and recordings of the works of all three composers remain sufficiently infrequent-particularly in the case of Gál-to allow for no complacent homily on Britain's nurturing of such distinguished guests; how could it be when one-Goldschmidt-gave up writing for nearly a quarter of a century? Others have fared better it is true, the late Andrzej Panufnik for example, but there is still much to be done. Where then to start in each composer's case? For Gál, as only three works are available, all three must be commended equally until such time as a Rattle or a Bamert or a Brain with the backing of a large company takes up his cause; for Gerhard, opera-lovers will take, I am sure to The Duenna, otherwise Chandos' five discs of his symphonies with their varied couplings provides the best way into his unique sound-world: start with those of No. 1 and the Violin Concerto, then the original Second and Concerto for Orchestra. For Goldschmidt, the best place way in is via the Decca disc of the three concertos, and then move to Largo's of Quartets 2 and 3 (again, opera buffs would do well to go straight to Beatrice Cenci). The music of all three composers deserves the widest currency; since so much of it was created within these shores, it also deserves to be considered as some of the finest British music of the past sixty-five years.

Guy Rickards

Discography:

  1. GÁL

    Serenade for string orchestra, Op. 46 (1937) [+ Pfitzner: Symphony, Op. 46, & works by Schreker, Humperdinck, Morawetz, Reznicek]. Nova Scotia SO/Georg Tintner. CBC SMCD5167

    Promenade Music for wind band (1926) [+ Hindemith: Concert Music, Op. 41, & Symphony in B flat, & works by Toch and Krenek]. Deutsches SO, Berlin/Roger Epple. Wergo 6641 2

    Sonata for clarinet and piano, Op. 84 (1964) [+ Sonatas 1-2 by Brahms]. Murray Khouri, John McCabe. Continuum CCD1027

  2. GERHARD

    Opera: La Dueña ("The Duenna", 1945-7). Soloists and Chorus of Opera North, English Northern Philharmonia/Antonio Ros Marbà. Chandos CHAN9520 [2-CD set]

    Ballets: Ariel (1934-6). Don Quixote (1940-1, rev. 1947-9). Pandora (1942-5, rev. 1949). Soirées de Barcelona (1936-9, arr. 1972 by David Atherton). Albada, Interludi i Dansa (1936). Tenerife SO/Victor Pablo Pérez.

    Alegrias - "divertissement flamenco" (1942) [+ works by Falla & Ernesto Halffter]. Tenerife SO/Victor Pablo Pérez. Etcetera KTC1095

    Symphonies: No. 1 (1952-3); No. 2 Metamorphoses, (1957-9, rev. 1967-8; compl. Alan Boustead); No. 3 Collages for orchestra & tape (1960); No. 4 New York (1967). Tenerife SO/Victor Pablo Pérez. Auvidis Montaigne MO 782113 [2-CD set, Nos. 2 & 4 originally available separately on MO 782102, and Nos. 2 & 4 on MO 782103]

    Symphony Homenaje a Pedrell (1940-1). Harpsichord Concerto (1955-6). Geoffrey Tozer, BBC SO/Matthias Bamert. Chandos CHAN9693

    Symphony No. 1. Violin Concerto (1942-3). Olivier Charlier, BBC SO/Matthias Bamert. Chandos CHAN9599

    Symphony No.2 (original version, 1957-9). Concerto for Orchestra. BBC SO/Matthias Bamert. Chandos CHAN9694

    Symphony No. 3 Collages for orchestra & tape (1960). Piano Concerto (1951). Epithalamion (1966, rev. 1969). Geoffrey Tozer (pf), BBC SO/Matthias Bamert. Chandos CHAN9556

    Symphony No. 4 New York (1967). Suite: Pandora (1942-5). BBC SO/Matthias Bamert. Chandos CHAN9651

    Harpsichord Concerto (1955-6). Nonet (1956-7). Piano Concerto (1951). Ursula Dütschler (hpschd), Albert Attenelle (pno), Barcelona SO/Lawrence Foster. Auvidis Montaigne MO 782107

    Cantatas: The Plague (1963-4). Epithalamion (1966, rev. 1969). Michael Lonsdale (spkr), BBC Symphony Chorus, Spanish National YO/Edmon Colomer. L'alta naixença del rei en Jaume (1932). 6 Cancons Populars Catalanes (1928-31). Cancionero de Pedrell (1941) + Sardanas I-II (1928). Anna Cors (sop), Francesc Garrigosa (bar), Coral Cármina, Barcelona SO/Edmon Colomer. Auvidis Montaigne MO 782115 [2-CD set, The Plague & Epithalamion originally available separately on MO 782101, the rest on MO 782106]

    Piano Music (complete): Dos Apunts ("2 Sketches", 1921-2). Suite: Soirées de Barcelona (1936-9, arr. c1958). Dances from Don Quixote (1940-1, arr. 1947). 3 Impromptus (1950) [+ Joaquim HOMS: Sonata no. 2]. Jordi Masó. Marco Polo 8.223867

    Music for 1 or 2 pianos: Alegrías - "divertissement flamenco" for 2 pianos (1942). Dos Apunts (1921-2). Suite: Soirées de Barcelona (1936-9, arr. c1958). 3 Impromptus (1950). Suite: Pandora for 2 pianos & percussion (1942-3). Andrew Ball & Julian Jacobson (pfs), Richard Benjafield (perc). Largo 5119

    Piano Trio (1918). Sonata for cello & piano (1956). Chaconne for solo violin (1959). Gemini for violin & piano (1966). Cantamen. Métier MSV CD92012

    String Quartets nos. 1 (1950-55) & 2 (1960-2). Kreutzer Quartet. Métier MSV CD92032 (mid-price)

    'Portraits & Horoscopes': Libra for seven players (1968). 3 Impromptus, for piano (1950). Concert for Eight (1962). Gemini for violin & piano (1966). Leo for chamber ensemble (1969). Nieuw Ensemble/Ed Spanjaard. Largo 5134

  3. GOLDSCHMIDT
  4. Opera: Der gewaltige Hahnrei, Op. 14 (1929-30). Soloists, Berlin Radio Chorus, Deutsches SO, Berlin/ Lothar Zagrosek. Decca 'Entartete Musik' 440 850-2 [2-CD set]

    Opera: Beatrice Cenci (1949-50). Soloists, Berlin Radio Chorus, Deutsches SO, Berlin/Lothar Zagrosek. Sony S2K66836 [2-CD set]

    Passacaglia, Op. 4 (1925). Overture The Comedy of Errors (1926). Ciaconna Sinfonica (1936). Rondeau for violin & orchestra (1995). Chantal Juillet (vn), CBSO/Sir Simon Rattle, Berthold Goldschmidt. Decca 452 599-2.

    Violin Concerto (1933, rev. 1955). Cello Concerto (1953). Clarinet Concerto (1954). Chantal Juillet (vn), Philharmonia/Bethold Goldschmidt. Yo-Yo Ma (vc), Montreal SO/Charles Dutoit. Sabine Meyer (cl), Berlin Komische Opera O/Yakob Kreizberg. Decca 'Entartete Musik' 455 586-2

    Cello Concerto (1953). Ciaconna Sinfonica. Suite: Chronica (1932-9, rev. 1953/85). David Geringas (vc), Magdeburg PO/ Mathias Husmann. CPO999 277-2

    Piano Trio (1985) [+ Trios by David Matthews & Malcolm Lipkin]. English Piano Trio. Kingdom KCLCD2029

    "Früher und Später": String Quartet no. 1, Op. 8 (1925-6). Piano Sonata, Op. 10 (1926). Clarinet Quintet (1983). Mandelring String Quartet. Kolja Lessing (pno). Ib Hausmann (cl). Largo 5117.

    Letzte Kapitel for voices, piano and percussion (1931). String Quartets nos. 2 (1936) & 3 (1989). Belsatzar for unaccompanied chorus (1985). Mandelring String Quartet. Alan Marks (pno). Ars Nova Ensemble, Berlin/Peter Schwarz. Largo 5115.

    Retrospectum for string trio (1991). Variations on a Palestinian Shepherd's Song for piano, Op. 32 (1934). Capriccio for solo violin* (1991-2). Capriccio for piano, Op. 11 (1927). Little Legend for piano (1928/57). Scherzo for piano (1922, rev. 1958). From the ballet, for piano (1957). Encore, for violin and piano (1993). String Quartet no. 4 (1992). Gaede Trio. Kolja Lessing (pno & vn*). Hansheinz Schneeberger (vn). Mandelring String Quartet. Largo 5128.

    2003 update

  5. Thankfully, since 2001 the picture of Gál’s range has begun to flesh out a little with several releases from a variety of labels. Not co-ordinated enough to denote a real revival, it has nonetheless enlarged his available discography by a factor of four or five. Most obscure and hard to find (and, sadly, not acquired for review here) are two discs of Gál’s music for mandolins on the Antes label in Baden. More accessible is a splendid CD from Olympia of the complete music for two pianists, performed vivaciously by Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow (whose previous issues include a revelatory account of Holst’s The Planets). The works tend to the lighter side of this composer’s output, especially the suites Three Marionettes (1958) and the six Serbian Dances (1916), both of which are hugely entertaining. There’s a hint of Hindemith in the former and very early Bartók in the latter. The Concertino, Op. 43 (1934), has resonances—quite deliberate—of the baroque but Gál’s evocation is quite different to more famous neo-classicists. It is also an arrangement by the composer of the Piano Concertino mentioned above, the second piano taking the role of the string orchestra but in such a way as to feel like a purposely written duo. The Three Impromptus of 1940 does not quite scale the same heights, but it is most diverting and it seems astonishing that the piece had to wait 53 years for a performance. The disc concludes with a four-hand arrangement of the six-hand Pastoral Tune (1954).

    Delightful as the works considered all are, they still only hint at Gál’s stature as a serious sonata composer. At last, recordings are filtering through of some of his more major items, particularly his sonatas. The D major Violin Sonata (1933, his unpublished second), is the opening item of David Frühwirth’s much-acclaimed 2-CD set "Trails of Creativity", examining music from Vienna, Berlin and London from between the wars. (Released on the Avie label, this is perhaps the highest profile recording to feature Gál’s music, receiving a Gramophone Editor’s Choice listing.) The Sonata is typical Gál: a lyrical initial Allegretto succeeded by a robust, swirling scherzo (the style of which reminded me of Bruckner, with a hint of middle-period Shostakovich in places) and a compound slow-movement-plus-fast-finale. Frühwirth, who with accompanist Henri Sigfridsson premiered the sonata in—unbelievably—November 2001, plays with great skill, though his tone is a little edgy at times, especially compared with the sweet-toned Annette-Barbara Vogel, whose account of the first Violin Sonata, Op. 17 (1920), has been released by Cybele. Of similar dimensions to the D major, the B flat minor feels like a much bigger work; just compare the openings of both. A product of the more expressionistic twenties (though without adopting a trace of atonality), it could almost be a transcription of a Concerto. That does not hold true of the companion piece, the Cello Sonata Gál wrote in 1954. This is another splendid, lyrical work, in a harmonically leaner idiom, splendidly performed (by Fulbert Slenczka and René Lecuona (pianist in both sonatas), so it’s a shame Cybele did not also include, say, one of the various violin or cello suites, the Sonata for unaccompanied cello, or the thirty-minute-long Piano Trio in E (1925); at just under 50 minutes, there was room. Still, this minor cavil should deter no-one from obtaining this disc. Cybele have as yet limited distribution (none, for instance in Britain), but can be accessed via the web on www.cybele.de.

    Additions to the discography:

    Works for Mandolins, Volume 1. Bella Musica Edition BM-CD 31.9177

    Works for Mandolins, Volume 2. Bella Musica Edition BM-CD 31.9171

    Complete Music for Piano Duo: 3 Marionettes, Op. 74 (1958). Serbian Dances, Op. 3 (1916). Concertino, Op. 43 (1934). 3 Impromptus (1940). Pastoral Tune (1954). Anthony Goldstone, Caroline Clemmow (pfs). Olympia OCD 709.

    Sonata in D for violin and piano (1933) [+ works by Rathaus, Rosse arr. Sammons, Korngold, Walton, Busch, Wellesz, Weill arr. Frenkel, Gurney]. David Frühwirth (vn), Henri Sigfridsson (pf). Avie AV0009.

    Sonata in B flat minor for violin and piano, Op. 17 (1920). Sonata for cello and piano, Op. 89 (1954). Annette-Barbara Vogel (vn), Fulbert Slenczka (vc), René Lecuona (pf). Cybele 360.901.

    Guy Rickards

  6. 2005 update

    Since my last update, Hans Gál’s presence in the catalogue has continued to grow slowly, with his First Violin Sonata—the B flat minor from 1920—receiving a second recording, a most unusual situation for this composer. And a fine alternative it is too, strongly played by Nurit Pacht accompanied by Konstantin Lifschitz as part of a fascinating 2-CD set from Nimbus entitled Continental Britons: The Émigré Composers. Pacht’s tone is not, perhaps, quite as sweet as Annette-Barbara Vogel on Cybele (see the 2003 Update above), but her vision of the work strikes me as even more apt for Gál’s lyrical inspiration. With Lifschitz in fine form at the keyboard this new version seems more like chamber music though still with that same bigness of stature the later D major eschewed. In the central Allegretto there is a foretaste of Shostakovich but it is the slow finale that really impresses. This is followed by the set of Five Songs Gál composed around the same time, between 1917 and 1921, to a Britten-like mixture of poems with diverse provenance, ranging from German late medieval to Christian Morgenstern and translations from the Chinese. Published in 1929, these are apparently the only songs Gál acknowledged, despite being the author of nearly one hundred as well as cantatas and operas. The Five Songs, beautifully sung by baritone Christian Immler to Erik Levi’s immaculate accompaniments, showcase the composer’s melodic genius, the late Romantic style still very much of its time—even though so much of Austrian culture was being blown apart by the outfall from the Great War. In a way, Gál’s music in these songs and the Sonata show how it might have developed had that catastrophe never taken place. Certainly the innocent melody of the second song, Der Wiesenbach, or the two Chinese songs, Drei Prinzessinnen and Abend auf dem Fluss, seem surreal when set against the songs and operas Hindemith was unleashing on an unsuspecting Weimar Republic at exactly the same time.

    Nimbus’ set also includes two works by Berthold Goldschmidt, both dating from his British exile. The Old Ships is a rollicking setting from 1952 of a poem by James Ellroy Flecker, later included in the voice-and-orchestral Mediterranean Songs. Immler gives it a very characterful interpretation and the song makes a most effective contrast to Gál’s Five (as well as something of a stylistic segué towards Matyas Seiber’s magnificent Violin Sonata which succeeds it. Seiber’s centenary falls this year, so I hope this is the first of a good number of recordings to explore the remarkable music of this fine composer, who died tragically before his time in a car accident, shortly after composing the sonata). Goldschmidt’s other piece is more substantial, the late Fantasy for oboe, cello and harp from 1991. A wonderfully lyrical single-span work, like much of the output of his final years, its pastoral idyll is hemmed in from all sides by darker, more disturbing passages. The close is affirmative but in no way triumphal and the tone throughout is rather one of questing or exploration of the tonal landscapes the music encounters. It is one of the strongest works here, high praise indeed considering other gems like the Gál pieces above or the triptych of compositions by Egon Wellesz, including the magisterial 1948 Octet, superbly realised here by the Ensemble Modern, Frankfurt. Mention seems appropriate of Peter Gellhorn (1912-2004), another refugee from Hitler’s Europe, who worked with the Carl Rosa, Sadler’s Wells, Covent Garden and Glyndebourne Festival opera companies, as well as the BBC Singers for a time. He is represented here by a bitter-sweet Interlude (1937) written for his duo partner Maria Lidka. I cannot recommend Continental Britons too highly. Superbly played and recorded (and I have by no means been an uncritical admirer of Nimbus’ sound quality in past releases), a set of fascinating music unjustly overlooked with the passage of time.

    Back to Gál again for the next disc, on the Belgian Megadisc label, of oboe-and-piano repertoire under the ponderous title ‘Paths’. Gál’s delightful Oboe Sonata (1964) is the final work in a programme of works by composers with a European Jewish heritage, opening with Pavel Haas’ Op. 17 Suite (1939-41) and Stepan Wolpe’s contemporaneous Sonata. These three pieces are very different in expressive focus; indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking the Haas and Wolpe pieces had been switched, given the earnestness of Haas’ Suite and Wolpe’s reputation for compositional rigour. The lyrical impulses in Haas’ Suite give its origin away although this does not strike me as a work that had to be written for this combination, unlike the other two works. Composed at the point the Nazi net had tightened round its composer, its somewhat forbidding demeanour is unsurprising but the positivism born of hope expressed in the final pages is truly uplifting. Yet this is hardly chamber music as one expects it. By contrast Wolpe’s neoclassical-sounding Sonata is more what one have anticipated from Haas, although given Wolpe’s once having been a student of Busoni, this manifestation of Young Classicality is not so out of character. Its determined joviality does become a tad steely by the finale, but this is a bracing and appealing piece, mostly shades of light in contrast to Haas’ storm-cloud-riven Suite. The quietude of Gál’s Sonata is refreshingly free of extramusical concerns after its wartime companions. Its three movements follow a sunny, largely untroubled course that, were the music not as perfectly imagined as it is, might otherwise seem trivial in such company. There’s a Brahmsian touch to the melodic writing although not really to its structure, a brief Pavane—unusually marked Allegro—sitting between a lovely Tranquillo con moto first movement and lively Allegro sostenuto assai finale. The performances are very decent, though a little airlessly recorded. The close miking of Piet van Bockstal’s oboe allows the action of the keys to be clearly audible in parts of the Wolpe and Gál sonatas (Haas’ thicker scoring obscures this) but otherwise the sound is well balanced between both players.

    Since the original version of this article there has been precious little activity in the recording studio involving Roberto Gerhard’s music, even though he remains the best-recorded of the three. However, the third issue in Naxos’ British Piano Concertos series has rectified the late neglect a little, with a third version now of the 1951 Piano Concerto, played by Peter Donohoe, who also directs the Northern Sinfonia. Gerhard’s concerto was scored for piano and strings and all four works on this new disc are for the same basic layout (the others are by Alec Rowley, his jocular First of 1937-8 which includes ad lib percussion parts, Christian Darnton—a slightly disappointing Concertino from 1948—and Howard Ferguson). Gerhard’s Spanish origins are audible most clearly in the enchanting slow movement, Diferencias, although the helter-skelter momentum of the concluding Folia has something Hispanic about it. The opening Tiento is similarly hectic, though a touch more cosmopolitan in tone. In this concerto Gerhard used twelve-note material but tempered this by casting the movements in the spirit of older, specifically Spanish forms. I have no hesitation in welcoming this as the best available account of the concerto, crisply played by Donohoe whose touch is surer still than either Attenelle (Auvidis) or Tozer (Chandos) and very decently recorded. If it does perhaps yield a touch in recording quality to Chandos’ de luxe sound, Naxos’ fits Gerhard’s music like a glove. But Donohoe’s performance is superlative and the Northern Sinfonia play wonderfully well for him in all four concertos. That of the Ferguson is also very fine indeed, and Rowley’s a real, if minor, find.

    Additions to the discography:

    GÁL Sonata in B flat minor for violin and piano, Op. 17 (1920). Five Songs for medium voice and piano, Op. 33 (1917-21). GOLDSCHMIDT Fantasy for oboe, cello and harp (1991). The Old Ships, (1952). GELLHORN Interlude. [+ works by Wellesz, Spinner, Tauský, Seiber, Reizenstein, Rankl]. Erik Levi (pf), Konstantin Lifschitz (pf), Nurit Pacht (vn), Christian Immler (bar) Nimbus NI 5730/1

    GÁL Sonata for oboe and piano {+ works by Haas, Wolpe]. Piet van Bockstal (ob), Yutaka Oya (pf). Megadisc MDC 7805

    GERHARD Concerto for piano and strings [+ concertos by Darnton, Rowe, Ferguson]. Peter Donohoe (pf), Northern Sinfonia. Naxos 8 557290

  7. 2005 update 2

    By some way the largest single issue devoted to Hans Gál is Avie’s 3-disc set of his complete output for solo piano, running to 189 minutes all told.[review] This comprises his solitary Sonata (1927) and the two Sonatinas (1949-51), two very different sets of preludes with an independent cycle of fugues, a suite and two small groups of pieces. Their disposition across the discs is largely sensible, with the large sets of 24 Preludes (1960) and 24 Fugues (1980—his ninetieth birthday present to himself!) taking discs 2 and 3 respectively apiece, and the remaining works—which all predate the Preludes—occupying disc 1 (which consequently runs to almost 79 minutes). Avie avoid placing the earlier set of 3 Preludes, Op. 65, from 1944 on the same disc as the larger, later group, even though that would have brought disc 2’s duration up from 50 minutes to 59. But they are products of different parts of his life with the Op. 65 triptych belonging with the keyboard pieces of his first and middle periods.

    The first disc is not arranged chronologically but presents the works (all from the period between 1910 and 1951) in a pleasing and varied sequence dictated more by matters musical than accidents of time (although it is instructive to play the works in order of composition to chart the composer’s stylistic development). Starting with the Sonata, the longest work outside the late cycles of preludes and fugues, was an obvious step, but do not be fooled by its relaxed opening, Tranquillo e semplice marking or relative brevity: there is plenty of compositional rigour in its apparently easy flow. The sunny disposition is broken here and there by darker elements which are manifest in the ensuing Quasi menuetto scherzo and the variation-form Andante. The concluding Allegro con spirito is all bustle and brings the work to a most satisfactory conclusion. If the Sonata has a drawback it is that its outer movements end well within their length and perhaps lack the gravity one expects of the Sonata Form, especially in comparison with Gál’s other keyboard output of this time. Indeed, there is a touch more of the visionary about the Suite, Op. 24, of 1922, even in the Präludium, though its piano writing is considerably freer with elements of Impressionism. The work’s lighter nature is exemplified best by the central Capriccio, a gem of a movement and full of bright invention against which the gloom of the succeeding Sarabande funebre seems initially out of character, although it thinks its way to something more serene before the concluding Gigue whirls along to a brilliant finish. It is fascinating to compare this Suite with Hindemith’s celebrated Suite: 1922; there is no hint of Weimar provocation in Gál’s writing.

    I think it was a mistake to follow the Suite with both Op. 58 Sonatinas. Charming as it is, the First (1951) with the ironically earlier Second (1949), makes its more modest companion seem a touch perfunctory, while the bigger conception and bolder lines of No. 2 (still contained within a dozen minutes) overpower the early 3 Sketches that follow it – indeed the latter, beautifully written set from thirty-nine years before seem a touch gauche by comparison with the Sonatina’s more cosmopolitan idiom. The juxtaposition of styles does put into very sharp relief how far the composer had developed, but for one whose output is lyrical testimony to the virtues of development this seems almost like a discrepancy since his own works do not display that kind of discontinuity of manner.. The four-movement Second Sonatina is perhaps the most balanced of all Gál’s shorter works here and of more moment than most. (It shares the Sonata’s light and shade.) The driving, but never driven, initial Allegro con fuoco, gives way to a lovely Arioso and delightful Scherzando, rounded off by a vibrant final Vivace and the whole makes, expressively and musically, a finer climax to this opening disc.

    Clearly, its close with the prelude-like 3 Small Pieces, Op. 64 (1933), and 3 Preludes, Op 65 (composed 11 years later), was intended as a natural link to the second disc and the set of 24. With the latter, one breathes—for all the continuity of his compositional voice and concerns—air from a different world. If the Gál of the 1920s and ‘30s showed stylistic traces of Schubert as much as Hindemith, in 1960 he had continued to develop and his music began to include resonances of other contemporaries, such as Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. The new brilliance in his keyboard style leaps from the page right from the outset of No 1 in B major, while there are elements of Gallic sensibilities, even a touch of de Falla, in the ebullient Second in B minor. Gál began composing the Preludes to stave away tedium during a fortnight’s hospital stay. He set himself the task of writing one a day while there, which accounts for their relatively modest individual size (they range in duration here from 1’ 10" – the First – to 3’ 28", No 17). Later he revised and extended the set to two dozen, one for each major and minor key in the tempered scale, creating a set some 50 minutes in length. The tonal scheme is unusual, not ascending stepwise chromatically but rather each pair (one major, one minor) following a more angular line the intervals of which embrace thirds, fifths and even the tritone: B – E flat – G – C – E – A flat – D flat major/C sharp minor – F – A – D – F sharp – B flat. the tempi are mostly moderate-to-rapid, with only No. 10 in E minor (Grave) and 14 in D flat (Adagio) outright slow movements. Many have a dance-like character (e.g. Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 7) and there is a good deal of swift-moving lyricism throughout (try No. 14 in C sharp minor, marked Presto, with its lilting moto perpetuo, or No 15 in F major to hear what I mean). As should be expected by now, the expressive range of these little gems is enormous, from the aphoristic to the serene, the vivid to the urbane, with all the piano colours he could command at as well as through his fingertips, from delicate filigree to pesante-like block chords, to high, stratospheric passages. The set is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of pianism and McCawley’s performances do the music proud, his virtuosity even more compelling (sample No 22 in F# minor) than with the more varied fare on disc 1.

    Twenty years later, Gál added a set of 24 Fugues, one in each major and minor key. This time they do ascend chromatically from C to B, following the pattern of Bach’s 48 (though just once and with no preludes) and the contrapuntal rigour they display – very compactly for the most part (only one here exceeds 4 minutes in duration) – is evocative of the Baroque master. So too are many of the fugue subjects, so for this reason alone trying to preface them with their tonal equivalents of 1960 would not make for balanced pairings. In fact the Fugues, despite their relative brevity, stand very well on their own, the sequence feeling like some gigantic supra-fugue embracing the entire tonal spectrum. There is not a hint of repetition in their discourse (no mean feat in itself) and each has that quiet, serene inevitability so familiar from Bach’s fugal writing. It must be said, however, that harmonically they are quite different, progressing with twentieth-, not eighteenth-century tonal logic. The fugues’ structures are very neatly arranged, for example where the brief Seventh (the shortest of all at 1’ 17") makes the perfect foil for the Sixth (the longest, at 4’ 11"). There is more variety of tempo also, which serves to underscore the clockwork-like precision of the music—as with Bach’s and equally without becoming predictable—that one does not hear in the Preludes. McCawley again has a firm understanding of the ebbs and flows and construction of each individual piece and the cycle as a whole—confirmed in his way with the valedictory Twenty-Fourth, in B minor. He seems the ideal interpreter of this music which deserves much wider currency than it has enjoyed until now. Avie’s recordings are beautifully clear, full without being over-rich, with good depth to the acoustical image. An exemplar for all recordings of unfamiliar repertoire (despite my minor caveats concerning the order on disc 1), I cannot recommend this set too highly.

    Addition to the discography:

    GÁL The Complete Works for Solo Piano. Leon McCawley (pf). Avie AV2064. [Features: 3 Sketches, Op. 7. Suite. Op. 24. Sonata, Op. 28. 2 Sonatinas, Op. 58. 3 Small Pieces, Op. 64. 3 Preludes, Op. 65. 24 Preludes, Op. 83. 24 Fugues, Op. 108.]

    2007 Update
  8. ÉMIGRÉ TRIO UPDATE

    Hans Gál’s discography continues to broaden and diversify, a situation that is heartening as it is long overdue and only what this fine composer and his beautifully constructed music deserves. When the original round-up review on Gál, Gerhard and Goldschmidt was written in 2001 there were just three works on disc, with no alternatives; now, in the year that marks the twentieth anniversary of his death at the age of 97, his complete output for string quartet (see below), piano solo (most of which have received a second recording, again see below) and piano duo/duet along with a healthy smattering of instrumental sonatas and smaller ensemble pieces have been issued on disc by a variety of companies. The net result of this activity has been to bring some much needed balance to the availability of the music of these three marvellous but still all-too-often overlooked composers of the twentieth century and allow a much greater familiarity with that of Gál in particular.

    Following Leon McCawley’s magnificent survey of the complete piano music on Avie (see the second 2005 update above), Martin Jones and Nimbus have produced a very fine set featuring the bulk of his output in a 2-disc set, omitting only (but majorly) the hour-long set of 24 Fugues from 1980. It is unclear why they took that decision: if because they thought replicating Avie’s issue would be uncommercial, producing two in one go seems to fall between two stools—neither a complete set nor selective enough to comprise a ‘Best Of’ programme. As it is, the disposition of works across Jones’ two discs provides alternative insights and playing contexts for the music, with the two Sonatinas from 1958 leading off the first disc and progressing via the early Sketches, completed in 1911, and Suite of 1922 (it’s year of composition providing an intriguing alternate view of Weimar Republic music to Hindemith’s iconic Suite) to the Sonata of 1927. This makes for a more satisfying musical progression than on Avie’s discs where the Sonatinas, following the Suite, were overshadowed by the latter’s more questing demeanour. Moving the two small triptychs of Small Pieces and Preludes—separated by a single opus number but composed eleven years apart—to the second disc with the later set of 24 Preludes also makes perfect sense, exploring Gál’s writing of preludes (or prelude-like) miniatures over nearly three decades.

    Jones’ performances throughout are a model of poise and clarity, evincing a persuasive understanding and affection for the pieces themselves. Compared to McCawley’s versions there are several interesting differences of viewpoint, not least of tempo. In the main, McCawley is the fleeter and more fluent but compared to Jones now seems rushed in one or two instances—the 10th Prelude, for example, which is marked Grave after all, or the final Sketch, where Jones’ slightly more relaxed speed pays greater dividend. Overall, though, theirs are complementary approaches which both serve Gál’s cause very well indeed and choice between them will depend on how much one wants to have included the late Fugues and the recorded sound. Nimbus’ is a touch more recessed than Avie’s; I prefer the latter’s more immediate feel, but its rival’s is more than adequate. As for the Fugues, my recommendation is that they should be heard so I hope Jones will get round to recording these as well.

    Gál the organist-composer is one of the most obscure areas in a career far too little known anyway, but he was an adept enough player to perform regularly in Viennese churches in his youth when the bulk of his modest output for the solo instrument was written. The Membran label has issued this on a single, generally well-recorded disc featuring István Mátyás at the console. The earliest item is a pair of 2 Sacred Songs, Im Himmelreich ("In Heaven") and Dort oben ("Up there"), composed for soprano, viola da gamba—but more usually played on the cello, as here—and organ in 1923. Straightforward, rather touching settings of brief poems from the Middle Ages and seventeenth century, they provide welcome contrasts of texture in what is obviously an organ dominated programme. A shame that soprano Adrineh Simonian is placed over-prominently. Gál followed this up in 1928 with a 14-minute-long Toccata, the most impressive work on offer on this disc, which showcases just how well he create larger structures. Cast in a tripartite form of Introduction (a stormy Allegro), Variations and Fugue, it is a major addition to the Austro-German organ repertoire of the twentieth century and why it is not a staple repertoire item is baffling. The Prelude and Fugue in A flat and Phantasie, Arioso & Capriccio (both from 1956) do not attempt the same intellectual rigour, compositionally adroit as they are, which may be why Gál did not assign them opus numbers. But then neither did he to the charming Concertino for organ and strings of 1948, in which the organ plays unaccompanied in the central Adagio. In the outer Allegro ma non troppo and Allegro molto comodo, the Orchester Wiener Akademie (Vienna Academy Orchestra) are ably conducted by Martin Haselböck.

    Gál’s music for string quartet comprises six works (leaving aside a few vocal items where a quartet features in the accompaniment), spread unevenly through his long career. The earliest surviving composition on Meridian’s survey is the charming set of 5 Miniatures completed in 1914. The technical assurance they reveal is remarkable—although by now no real surprise—so it was inevitable he would turn his attention to the quartet medium as a whole. The First in F minor appeared just two years later (and was premiered by the Busch Quartet, no less), with the Second in A minor following in 1929. Apart from the delightful set of Improvisation, Variations and Finale on a theme of Mozart—originally scored for mandolin, violin, viola and liuto (or cello)—of 1934, there was a forty-year gap before he wrote for this combination again, the Third (B minor) and Fourth (B flat major) Quartets being written in 1969 and 1970 respectively.

    Listening to No 1, a model of Classical poise and clarity but with a rather Brahmsian sound, put me in mind of Sibelius’ early quartets, particularly the Finn’s B flat major (Op 4), written in the year Gál was born (1890). Both were composed when their creators were of an equivalent age (25 or so) but, despite the fact that it was Sibelius who secured enormous international success and, for a time, cult status, it is Gál’s which is the more impressive quartet. Not the least reason for this is that Gál wrote the work as part of a living, breathing tradition whereas Sibelius could only mimic it at one or two removes from his experience of playing Classical quartets as a student. Gál’s First, the only one of the four not to bear descriptive titles for each of its movements, may outwardly be as conventional in form as Sibelius’ but internally is rather less so, with unusual and decidedly early-twentieth century harmonic progressions as well as folk-like melodies. Its melodic and harmonic flows are seamless and two of its most engaging characteristics. The opening Moderato, ma con passione is succeeded by a typically fleet-footed scherzo and solemn Adagio, the longest and eventually most intense movement in the work. The Allegro energico, un poco sostenuto finale carries as much of the musical weight of the whole as the opening span, to which it is related thematically.

    In his Second Quartet Gál varied the basic ground-plan adopted in the other three, by adding a fifth movement (a folk-like Intermezzo capriccioso which dovetails into the Allegretto commodo Rondo finale). A rather more personal creation, in depth of expression and style, than the First, No 2 marked a definite advance in his handling of larger, multi-movement forms and the quartet medium as a whole. After a compact opening Preludio marked Un poco agitato, the ensuing Toccata moves into not dissimilar terrain to early Bartók in its vigorously rhythmic flow. Again the slow movement, here a Canzone marked Andante, is the quartet’s expressive fulcrum. What a shame that the vicissitudes of his life disrupted his cultivation of the form for so long).

    The Third Quartet is to my mind the finest of the cycle, deriving something of its seriousness of purpose from its opus number, 95: the same as that of Beethoven’s Quartetto serioso. Gál’s succession of Energico (marked Allegro molto moderato and at 10’ 04" in this recording the second longest movement in the whole set), Scherzando, Cantabile and Con umore, while sounding like a set of character pieces, adds up to a most substantial work. While audibly the product of the same mind as the first two quartets, Gál’s harmonic language in No 3 had undergone subtle changes and refinement, no longer core Viennese but more international in scope. There are hints at times of the early Shostakovich quartets in the writing, something that carries over into the Fourth, though the Lamento opening movement is light years away from the gloom and despair of the Russian’s later works (with which it is contemporary). The mastery of the Fourth, which brings the cycle to a most satisfying close, is total. The performances by the Edinburgh Quartet, who premiered Nos 3 & 4, are simply superb and should bring these splendid works to a much wider audience. Meridian’s sound is first rate, the acoustical picture ideal for the music. Highly recommended.

    While Gál has benefited from some belated and long overdue attention in the recording studio (and we now need to have recordings of the symphonies, concertos and operas), there has been little or nothing devoted of late to Goldschmidt. I have not caught up with NMC’s recent film score disc which includes the music Gerhard wrote for Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life (1963), but I have with Ingrid Culliford’s splendid rendition of the Capriccio for unaccompanied flute on a Lorelt disc which slipped through the net of my original survey. Entitled ‘Flight’, the title track is George Benjamin’s evocative fantasia and is coupled with two pieces by York Bowen, Alwyn’s Sonata and Maconchy’s Colloquy. Gerhard’s Capriccio was composed in 1949 for Gareth Morris (for whom the sonatas by Alwyn and Bowen were also written) and is therefore especially welcome as an example of middle-period Gerhard. Although playing in a continuous span for over six minutes, Capriccio is a kaleidoscopic virtuoso piece, full of shifting moods, alternating speeds, exuberant dances and reflective calm. If this all sounds evocative of the Iberian landscape then this is one of those works of this composer’s that bears the hallmarks of his Spanish and Catalan heritage albeit of a very different stamp to that of de Falla, the Halffters or Montsalvatge. Ingrid Culliford brings out the myriad colours of Gerhard’s solo writing in a beautifully paced performance, excellently recorded by Mike Skeet as long ago as 1995.

    Additions to the discography:

    GÁL: Piano Music. Martin Jones (pf). Nimbus NI 5751-2 (2CD set)

    CD1: 2 Sonatinas, Op 58 (1951). 3 Sketches, Op 7 (1910-1). Suite, Op 24 (1922). Sonata, Op 28 (1927).

    CD2: 3 Small Pieces, Op 64 (1933). 3 Preludes, Op 65 (1944). 24 Preludes, Op 83 (1960)

    GÁL: Concertino for organ & strings (1948). Toccata for organ, Op 29 (1928). Two Sacred Songs for soprano, cello and organ, Op 21 (1923). Prelude and Fugue in A flat, for organ (1956). Phantasie, Arioso and Capriccio, for organ (1956). István Mátyás (org), with Adrineh Simonian (sop), David Pennetzdorfer (vc), Vienna Academy Orchestra / Martin Haselböck. Membran 60162

    GÁL: The Complete String Quartets. Edinburgh Quartet. Meridian CDE 84530-1 (2CD set)

    CD1: Quartet No 1 in F minor, Op 16 (1916). Quartet No 4, Op 99 (1970). Improvisation, Variations and Finale on a theme of Mozart, Op 60b (1934)

    CD2: Quartet No 2 in A minor, Op 35 (1929). Quartet No 3 in B minor, Op 95 (1969). 5 Intermezzi, Op 10 (1914)

    GERHARD: Film score "This Sporting Life" (1963) [+ works by R R Bennett, Britten, Luytens]. BBC Symphony Orchestra / Jap Van Steen. NMC NMCD073

    GERHARD: Capriccio for solo flute (1949) [+ works by Alwyn, George Benjamin, Bowen, Maconchy]. Ingrid Culliford (fl), Dominic Saunders (pf). Lorelt LNT107

    Guy Rickards

    See also Margaret Moncrieff Kelly on Hans Gal


    Paul Conway on Gerhard

 



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