Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hans Gál Chamber Music for Clarinet Spans Career

Austrian composer Hans Gál had a promising career in the 1930s. His opera Die heilige Ente (premiered under George Szell) received multiple performances, he was appointed the director of the Mainz conservatory on the recommendations of Wilhelm Furtwängler and Richard Strauss, his compositions won awards and critical acclaim.

But it all disappeared once the Nazis rose to power. Because of his Jewish background, Gál's music was banned from performance. Gal fled to the UK, where he settled and remained.

While his music was performed during and after the war, it never achieved the same prominence it had in prewar Europe. Part of the reason was that Gál eschewed the move towards atonality, preferring to further develop his post-romantic style.

As the three works on this album show, that choice didn't make his music sound old-fashioned -- it just didn't sound new-fashioned.

The three clarinet works on this album span Gál's career. The Serenade for Clarinet, Violin, and Cello, Op. 93 of 1935 is wonderfully expressive, with a musical language that falls (to my ears) somewhere between that of Paul Hindemith and Max Reger.

The 1950 Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano, Op. 97 further opens up Gál's harmonic language. While still firmly tonal, both melody and harmony take some unexpected turns that would have been out of place in Gal's prewar style.

The 1977 Clarinet Quintet, Op. 107 may sound very conservative to some, but listening carefully one can hear the growth in Gál's style. Some sections reminded me of Bartok, while others of Shostakovich.

The best way to enjoy music by Hans Gál? Don't worry about when it was written and try to put it into context. Just listen to it on its own terms. That's what I did -- and that's why I'll be seeking out more of Gál's music.

Hans Gál: Chamber Music for Clarinet
Clarinet Quintet, Op. 107; Trio for Violin, Clarine,t and Piano, Op. 97; Serenade for Clarinet, Violin and Cello, Op. 93
Ensemble Burletta
Toccata Classics TOCC 0377

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