The Austrian Connection
Haydn: Piano Sonata in C, Hob. XVI/50; Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310; Schubert: Piano Sonata in A, D. 664; Gál: Three Small Pieces, Op. 65
Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)
Avie AV2418 74:21 mins
Though by most definitions not a member of the Second Viennese School, the composer Hans Gál (only five years younger than Alban Berg) certainly inhabited a similar world. Perhaps one difference was that he was temperamentally better disposed than many of his contemporaries to the First Viennese School, an affinity that certainly comes across in the Three Preludes, Op. 65. The pianist Sarah Beth Briggs, a consistent champion of Gál’s music, makes the Haydnesque connection in music that doesn’t betray all the pain its composer must have been feeling. A refugee from Nazism, he was interned by the British in 1940 as an enemy alien, but soon settled in Edinburgh, where he wrote these pieces in 1944. In the sparkling clarity of Briggs’s performance, the opening Vivacissimo lives up to its tempo marking, and a haunting slow movement anchors the work before the toccata-like finale which flies up and away at the end.
Briggs’s Haydn is similarly arresting. She opens with the variations on the future Austrian national anthem originally found in the Emperor Quartet, and brings out the delightful wit of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in C, Hob. XVI/50 – another work written in Britain, during Haydn’s second visit. A fine sense of sonority displayed here slightly deserts her in Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, K 310, where already the left-hand figure of the opening is a little insistent. But the good-natured serenity of her Schubert (the concise Sonata in A major, D 664) quickly restores balance in this attractive recital.