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A performance of Gál’s music that focuses on the cello

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Gál
Concertino for cello and string orchestra; Sonata for solo cello; Suite for solo cello
Matthew Sharp (cello); English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
Avie Records  2380

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Avie’s latest contribution to its burgeoning discography of music by Austrian-born Hans Gál focuses on the
cello, an instrument that very much resonated with his lyrical inclinations. Of the three works featured here, the most substantial is the Concertino for Cello and Strings completed in 1965 when Gál was already well into his seventies. It’s a much more expansive composition than the title might suggest, with three substantial movements  that demonstrate impeccable craftsmanship and a tightly-knit organisation of thematic material. A strong vein of melancholy runs through the first two movements in which Gál pays frequent homage to Schumann. In contrast, the Finale is on the surface far more upbeat and humorous in outlook, but doesn’t entirely dispel an overriding sense of loss and regret. Matthew Sharp is an impassioned advocate, and the English Symphony Orchestra strings under Kenneth Woods, supported by a warmly ambient recording, give committed support.

The unaccompanied Sonata and Suite, both written when Gál was 92, are even more retrospective in style. In his booklet notes, Kenneth Woods highlights the music’s obvious allusions to Bach, but also convincingly links these works to Reger’s unaccompanied solo string compositions. Gál’s writing remains fluent, but the ideas are not as distinctive as in the Concertino. The Sonata in particular strikes me as being rather long-winded, whereas the Suite offers greater variety of moods. Sharp certainly plays them very effectively, though I wonder whether the music would have been even better served had he had employed a wider dynamic and tonal range.

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Erik Levi