Cello Concerto, Op.67
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Antonio Meneses (cello)
Recorded 5-7 January 2012, Hall One, The Sage Gateshead, England
AVIE RECORDS AV2237
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Once again Avie Records gives us something to treasure from the pen of Hans Gál (1890-1987), the Vienna-born composer who fled the Nazis in 1938 and who, after interment, travelled to Edinburgh where he remained for the rest of his long life, one that found him teaching at the University and also composing until the end.
Gál’s Cello Concerto is from 1944 and followed a time of upheaval and unbelievable tragedy: his mother had died in 1942, closely followed by his sister and aunt taking their own lives to avoid deportation to Auschwitz, and then Gál’s 18-year-old son also committed suicide. The Cello Concerto may perhaps be taken as a very personal response to such dreadful happenings.
The work opens ruminatively and then straight into a cadenza (the first of several) with elements of improvisation, an introduction to what might be considered a rhapsodic (but not loose) work, one that is nostalgic, lyrical and eloquent. The first movement (and the last for that matter) is a large-scale construction and it is not until six or so minutes in that more-vigorous material is introduced and the music begins to soar, although it is not too long before reverie returns. The slow movement is in similar mood, quietly reflective, perhaps to samey to what has gone before though. The finale begins in perky and energetic fashion before another lengthy cadenza, which maybe arrives too early and discursively. At least Gál is able to end the work with bright and quick tones.
This is music quite difficult to penetrate into. Its generous proportions and musings may be thought not to fit. Yes, one admires the craftsmanship and the sincerity, and that Gál does not over-blow his grief (quite the opposite in fact). The performance allows the music to flow and, in the finale, dance on point, to speak for itself, and with some fine interaction between soloist and orchestra (Gál’s scoring is economical), which the recording very faithfully captures, and which will be invaluable to get to know better what lies beneath the notes of this so-far enigmatic work.
Elgar had his very own enigmas of course. Those underlining the Cello Concerto can be taken as a reaction to the Great War (so-called) and all the many social changes it provoked as well as the composer’s own isolation (as he felt it to be). The familiarity and popularity of the Elgar could not be more poles-apart from Gál’s virtually unknown example. Elgar’s essentially private and personal music has become so public, so available, and sometimes abused. Antonio Meneses, sympathetically accompanied, gives a dignified and involving account (as he does of the Gál), passion lurking and sometimes coming the surface, stresses the solitude and stoicism of Elgar’s writing without become mawkish or indulgent. This rendition can stand high in the catalogue of its many recordings.
Avie’s presentation is exemplary. Apart from the splendid sound the booklet includes an interview with the cellist, and if Kenneth Woods isn’t conducting this time (he is the Gál missionary par excellence), then he has at least written the introductory note, which also helps to untangle anything impenetrable in the pieces, the Gál especially.