Premiere Recording of Piano Concerto by Hans Gal!
Performed by Sarah Beth Briggs(piano);Royal Northern Sinfonia and conducted by Kenneth Woods
It was pretty exciting stuff, like a child at xmas, opening their present, when I got hold of my copy of this album, I can tell you. Released on the AVIE label, this is actually the ‘premiere recording’ of this little known masterpiece.
Having heard only a few pieces of Gal’s music, before this one, I already had an idea about where his musical heart, and ideals lay, in the classical musical repertoire. Well, let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed at all, as the CD is a total delight from beginning to end.
Hans Gal was born in Austria, just outside Vienna, and studied at the university there, later, at one point even worked there too. During WW1, he served in the armed forces around the Adriatic, in both Serbia and Italy. Times were pretty tough, to say the least, for him and his family after the war. It was wonderful that he had the opportunity to hear his 2nd opera ’The Sacred duck’ premiered in Dusseldorf, which also went on to receive many more performances. A year after winning a prize for his ’Sinfonietta’ – he later titled it ‘First Symphony’ – he moved to work in Mainz in 1929. Unfortunately, the rise of Nazis in Germany, brought an abrupt end to his career here, due to his Jewish ancestry.
Dismissed from his job in Mainz, and all his compositions being totally banned, from either performances, or publishing, he fled to London. He then moved onto Edinburgh, where he was to settle for good, and call his home town for the rest of his life, although he spent time initially, in the UK, in an internment camp, as an illegal alien!! As you can only imagine, how on earth he continued to write and share his creative genius with all the trauma of his personal life? We have, the musical and human spirit of Hans Gal the man, speaks to us all through his music. Well, there you have only a tiny amount of background to the man, now we need to discuss his music, and in this case the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. You can read more about the composer, his life and music, in the well written booklet, included with the CD. Written in 3 separate movements, we have a structure, well used, developed and much beloved, in the romantic period of composers. But this is a totally different ‘kettle of fish’, so to speak, from many other works in this form. Written in 1948 as music was moving into many fragmented ideologies, which still exist today somewhat, he wrote with a heartfelt passion, almost pleading in his writing. A totally individual voice, providing a beauty of tone, melodies a lot of composers could only dream of, and an orchestration colouring, which is – well, I think anyway – absolutely wonderful. Please note: any composers, budding composers, please study Gal’s scores to see what I mean, as alongside Elgar, Canteloube – other 20th century orchestrators – all are totally in control of their craft with an orchestra. Anyway, i digress. The 1st movement provides the opportunity for soloist to ‘ show off’ their pianistic skills. Technically, yes, but also stunning too! The slow 2nd movement, is totally overwhelming in beauty, with pastel shades of colour, as orchestral sounds wash over you, as the the solo piano enters, to join the large scale ’song without words’ which takes us to aural heaven. The final, 3rd movement almost bounces, from one musical idea, to another, in quick succession. Varying, between feelings of fun, to slightly melancholic, in places. with no real respite. This music takes us on a journey, with virtuosic performances from both Sarah Beth Briggs, the Royal Northern sinfonia, with the wonderful Kenneth Woods in the ‘ driving seat’, so to speak, conducting and keeping everyone as an ensemble of musical creativity. After this, you’re left a little breathless somewhat, but in a good way!! A total pleasure to listen to, and it will continue to be played in this household, for a long time yet, I can assure you. I also understand Sarah will be recording other works by Gal, which is great, as his music ‘ needs to be out there’, whatever that term means, but I agree emphatically – so, bring it on!! In fact Sarah beth Briggs, the ideal soloist here, has a direct connection with the composer, actually, as his grandson has acted as producer on all of her previous recordings. So, with an emotional, as well as technical insight, she gives a performance here, with both total understanding of a great work – let me assure you, that I think it is – and with a passion for both composer and the music he produced. Bringing an edge to the music, when needed, she produces a beautiful expression of playing, that totally convinces the listener, of an overwhelming commitment to bring his work to a wider listening public, thus opening the doors for further recordings and recordings of his work. I’ve also played tracks from the album on my radio show, a number of times too, to much positive feedback from listeners who didn’t know Hans Gal, or his music, which is brilliant!
Also included on this CD, from the same performers, is Mozart’s popular Piano Concerto No: 22; another beautiful, and inspiring work. As with the Gal, the performances are a wonder to the auditory nerves, with the work played with such finesse, from all the performers concerned – excellent stuff. Again, written in 3 movements, always a good plan, and works for me in most circumstances, in my eyes. This gives room in one composition, to develop plenty of musical ideas, in differing moods, allowing the soloist time to show their virtuosic side, whilst also allowing an elegance of control and thoughtfulness, to be expressed, particularly in the slow movement, as it is here. Actually, because of all this, it makes makes an ideal companion to the Gal work.