The Austrian-British composer, teacher, and author Hans Gal (1890-1987) might have fallen into obscurity by now if it hadn't been for companies like Avie Records and conductors like Kenneth Woods and Thomas Zehetmair, who have relatively recently begun to champion the neglected composer with a series of new recordings. In the present album, Maestro Woods, pianist Sarah Beth Briggs, and the Royal Northern Sinfonia perform the world premiere recording of Gal's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 57, coupled with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat, K.482. The results are not only splendid, they fill a much-needed gap in the Gal discography.
Gal wrote his piano concerto in 1948, well into the modern era of classical music. Yet with its lush melodies the score has its feet set firmly in the Romantic period, leading many critics of the time to view Gal as rather old-fashioned. Today's audience may be ready for a return to the more tuneful music of yesteryear, and, thus, we may be hearing more from composers who value entertaining but creative harmonies over experimental dissonance. Who knows? I generalize. What we have in Gal's work is highly accessible and easy to like. That's my main point, no matter what one's opinion of Romantic vs. modern classical music.
|Sarah Beth Briggs|
Attending the Gal piece we get Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, which may seem an odd coupling until you realize that several previous Gal albums also combined his music with that of past masters. Here, the booklet note tries to explain the relationship between Gal's music and Mozart's, but I didn't find the argument entirely convincing. I would have liked hearing Gal's piano concertina, instead.
In any case, Ms. Briggs directs the Mozart from the keyboard, and the performance sounds happy, sprightly, and dignified at the same time. When after a lengthy introduction the piano enters, it comes as no surprise that it matches the orchestra's ardor, although to a somewhat more-subdued degree. Nevertheless, it's one of the better readings of this work you'll find, filled with subtlety, grace, wit, elegance, and grandeur. Even if I would have preferred a bit more spirited abandon in the delicious closing Allegro, performed a bit low-key, it still sounds radiant.
Simon Fox-Gal, the grandson of Hans Gal, recorded, produced, engineered, and edited the present album, making it in Hall One, Sage Gateshead, England in January 2016. The piano is a little close for my liking, stretching too far from left to right across the stage. Otherwise, the sonics sound balanced, clear, well focused, and mildly resonant. There is also a fine sense of front-to-back depth to the orchestra, which together with a wide dynamic range and strong impact provides a realistic presentation.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: