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Hans GÁL (1890-1987)
Music for Cello
Sonata for Solo Cello, op.109a (1982) [20:23]
Suite for Solo Cello, op.109b (1982) [21:22]
Sonata for Cello and Piano, op.89 (1953) [21:54]
Alfia Nakipbekova (cello)
Jakob Fichert (piano)
rec. Land Art, Papa Westray, Orkney, Scotland, 10-12 June 2010; Music Room, Champs Hill, Pulborough, England, 17 November 2010 (op.89). DDD
The almost ironic boom in 21st-century recordings of art music in an otherwise forbidding cultural environment has given Austrian composer Hans Gál's reputation a deserved boost. His orchestral music is currently enjoying a renaissance, courtesy primarily of two complete symphonic cycles, both on the Avie label and both halfway to completion at the time of writing: Kenneth Woods conducting the Orchestra of the Swan (AV2230, AV2231) and Thomas Zehetmair with the Northern Sinfonia (AV2224, AV2225).
Like the symphonies, Gál's chamber music is superbly melodious, elegantly lush and unashamedly retrospective. Yet another recent Avie release, again featuring Kenneth Woods - but this time as cellist - drew welcome attention to Gál's string trios (AV2259). The earliest work in Alfia Nakipbekova's thoroughly impressive recital for Toccata, the Sonata for cello and piano, is itself a gorgeous piece of nostalgia, oozing quasi-Brahmsian late-Romantic lyricism and charm. This is only its second recording, after one on the German label Cybele in 2002 by German cellist Fulbert Slenczka and American pianist René Lecuona, paired with Gál's op.17 violin sonata (360.901). That disc is still available, although the intervening decade has not made much of a dent in its full-price tag. Gál's only two works for solo cello have a special poignancy: not only did he write them at the astonishing age of 92, but they were among his very last works. He shunned modernism though, and so the dates are fairly immaterial - these are more Bach than Britten, let alone Berio.
As the CD running time is a little on the short side, it is a pity that Nakipbekova and Fichert did not include the two Scottish Rhapsodies - Gál spent the second half of his life in Edinburgh. Though still unpublished, they have been recorded once before, by Rebecca Rust and Frederick Blum half a dozen years ago for another German label, Cavalli (CCD 281). A more interesting pairing for the two solo cello works, however, would have been Gál's only other work for chamber cello, the op.6 Suite for cello and piano. Written in 1919, it would have made for an interesting comparison stylistically with these works from the other end of Gál's life. There is, however, more fine cello music from Gál available in the form of his concerto, recorded by Beaux Arts Trio cellist Antônio Meneses and released last year on Avie (again) in a congenial pairing with Elgar's (AV2237).
Toccata's booklets are generally exemplary, and this one is no different. The notes by the ever-dependable Malcolm MacDonald are detailed, lucid and interesting. A single discrepancy: the Sonata op.89 is dated 1953 in the tracklist and by the Hans Gál Society, but 1954 in MacDonald's notes.
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