Gál The Piano Music

Composer, scholar, writer, teacher and performer, Hans Gál was the complete musician in the very best sense of the word. Born in 1890 in the village of Brunn an Gebirge just outside Vienna to parents of Hungarian-Jewish origin, his musical talent blossomed under the encouragement of his Aunt Jenny, who was an established opera singer in Weimar, and he began piano lessons at the age of eight. Although finding the routine of practice irksome, Gál became sufficiently proficient on the instrument to have been admitted at the age of fifteen to the class of Richard Robert, (1861-1924) one of the most outstanding piano pedagogues in Vienna and the teacher of Clara Haskil, Rudolf Serkin and George Szell.



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The first disc ranges back and forth; both Sonatines, the Suite, Sonata, and Drei Skizzen. The Sonata is a four-movement work of immediacy and attractive melodic openness. Fresh-limbed the opening may be but it does rise to the occasional pitch and the accent is rather French, not least in the perky Scherzo (a minuet) where the rocking figures and accelerated drive impart a somewhat comedic element. This is an impression reinforced by the alert but certainly not overtly expressive variational slow movement. The Suite is a somewhat earlier work dating from Gál’s early thirties. He carves a haltingly witty Menuet and a warmly flowing Sarabande that ultimately gains in gravity and depth.
The Preludes were written in 1960 and owe their composition to a protracted period of time Gál spent in hospital. To keep in trim he wrote one prelude for each day he spent in hospital. He stayed a fortnight and the set was complete and revised within a few months. As with almost all his solo piano music these are concise, pithy but significant statements and never remotely commonplace. The B minor is puckish, the E flat major light, the G major Prokofiev-like and the G minor doffs the compositional cap significantly to Chopin. Then again there are trace elements of Mussorgsky in the trudging E minor, delicious left hand melody lines in the C sharp minor, more Russian influence in the A minor and a quicksilver D minor.
In almost all cases throughout these discs Jones prefers to take more time, to phrase with greater tonal and timbral weight. McCawley therefore emphasises the crisp neo-baroque elements in the music – not least in the Sonatines – whereas Jones’s is the more reflective approach, the tone more ‘covered’, less athletic, more thoughtful.

Nimbus’s recording certainly suits Jones’s mellow approach and he can be warmly commended for his rich tone and more horizontal response to the music.
Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb-international.com

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