Hans Gal – Chamber Music
Katalin Kertesz (violin); Nichola Blakey (viola); Cressida Nash (cello) and Sarah Beth Briggs (piano).
This is yet another great addition to the recording catalogue of works by this genius of 20th century music! Released by Toccata Classics, it brings the talents of four tremendous musical performers together to perform some of Gal’s great chamber music: Katalin Kertesz (violin); Nichola Blakey (viola); Cressida Nash (cello); and Sarah Beth Briggs (piano). Of course, if you read my review here a few months ago, you’ll know my view on what a fine performer Sarah is, as I reviewed her recording of the Gal ‘Piano Concerto’ – a tremendous CD it is too. Well, here she is joined by other outstanding players, who play their music with not only musicality, but an amazing insight into the composers compositional mind. The main focus of our attention is drawn to the ‘Piano Quartet’ (1914); though we also have the pleasure to be able to listen to other smaller scale works; ’Three Sonatinas for Violin and Piano’ (1956) and the ’Sonatina in F’ (1934). As I mentioned earlier, I reviewed the Concerto in which I spoke a little about the life and works of the composer, so I don’t intend to say much more here, but feel free to look at that review for insights about Hans Gal the man. So, to the pieces on this album, I’ll try and keep short and sweet if I can, but who knows where my writing will take me and you too, but here goes!
The main work on this recording, so I’ll speak a little more than the other works. A real lively intro to this work, with energetic first movement, which then takes us into the real spirit of Gal’s real world of musical imagination. In fact, this is an early work of the composer, written whilst he was still a resident in Vienna. Although there is no date on the original manuscript , we have to use our own musical history thoughts of possible start and finish dates of this masterpiece, although again, there is possible evidence of original work being started in 1914. The composer spent early 1915 until 1918, serving in the Austrian army, so maybe there was a long break before completing the work. The finished piece was premiered in 1920, and subsequently published by Simrock in 1922. The quartet is indeed is a major work in all respects, and a stunning composition. Set in the usual, for the time, classical/romantic four movements, all of which are totally contrasting in character, whilst at the same time the composer tells us all his musical stories, if you like, by making each movement complete, and stand alone, using a variety of rhythmic pulses within the music to speak to us. This totally beautiful sound world is enhanced, also by the fact that all the movements add up to a whole, great work of musical art. The vigorous 1st movement; the beautifully stunning 2nd, with it’s bell like figure, mixed with luscious string melodies, all performed with an exquisite feeling of musical ensemble. The 3rd movement takes us into another world of contrast, bringing a real feel of power which the players bring off with ease, although we know inside that it’s a tricky one to produce in performance. The work finishes with a real virtuosic, and exciting 4th movement, and it seems as though the composer is trying to overwhelm us, although in a very good way of course, by taking us on a bit of a helter-skelter of a musical roller coaster ride, as the visions in our head and heart flash by, and leave you breathless at the final chords and we take a few minutes to recover from our slightly heady, tear jerking, heart pumping ride. After a moment we begin to realise what a truly wonderful experience we have had! This is a true chamber work of both virtuosic power and emotional reflection, with each performer on this premiere recording, showing a total understanding of the music, but more than that actually, a complete insight into the composers personal world, his creative thoughts spring to life in our own ears, and what his music has to say to us, as listeners – a perfect combination for such a work as this. I can only imagine how emotionally and physically drained, or although again, possibly totally elated and jittering with musical adrenalin, after such an experience, the performers felt while both rehearsing and recording. One I certainly thank them for too, for bringing this work to life.
‘3 Sonatinas for Violin and Piano’
The 3 Sonatinas for Violin and piano, were in fact all written in 1956, in Edinburgh, his home after fleeing from the Nazis in 1938. In contrast to the overwhelming structure, contrasting moods, and feelings of the Quartet, these works are of a more intimate, slightly introspective in feel, maybe. But, having said that, they are definitely from the same recipe book, so to speak, with many of the ingredients of his stylistic voice instantly recognisable to us who have heard performances of his compositional output. Each of the three sonatinas has it’s own descriptive feel and colour, and thats not just because of the keys chosen by the composer, there is more to it than that. In the traditional, romantic style, with beauty, feeling and melodic interest aplenty, they each do what it says on the can – delightful pieces of violin and piano duets, works to chill out to in a way maybe, but thats what we need sometimes, and as I say, after the enormous work of Piano Quartet, it’s great to have a contrasting relief, where the composer speaks clearly, wearing his heart on his sleeve. Again, the two performers play with both precision and a lightnes of touch, when required, and in doing so, draw us into the whole set.
’Sonatina in F major’
Written in 1934, earlier than the previous set, have a similar feel, although you get a more developed structure to this work. In 3 contrasting movements, there are plenty of lovely touches to catch your musical imagination, form both the composer, but also the performers too. A truly nice finish to fabulous disc – get yourself a copy, soon as you can, you’ll love it. The piano quartet is a perfection which you’ll play over and over, each time absorbing and appreciating both the performances, but also the composers work, whilst the violin and piano sonatinas are really nice pieces of music too, but with less to say and tasking to your head and emotions, but certainly lovely repertoire violin and piano duets indeed.
Hans Gal – Chamber Music