It is odd that a work by a composer who spent half his long life in Edinburgh should have its Scottish premiere on the 20th anniversary of his death. It is even odder that the Sonata in D for violin and Piano should be brought to life by a group of young musicians who have banded together with the aim of promoting the music of Hans Gal.
Gal’s burgeoning career was permanently blighted by his brutal dismissal as Director of the Mainz Conservatoire immediately the Nazis came to power in 1933 and the sonata was written a short while later in the Black Forest village where the family had taken temporary refuge. In these circumstances, the listener could expect the work to show signs of turmoil and despair (as does the concert’s opening item, Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, written
a year earlier in compliance with Soviet officialdom) but this is far from the case.
The sonata certainly has its emotional tones but these are within a lyrical progression that flows from a basic inner tranquillity, not in response to external events. Indeed the exuberance of the final Allegro seems to envisage something better than the reality of that time.
It is difficult to offer a detailed analysis of the first hearing of a not-yet published composition. But for an appreciative audience in Stockbridge Church on 1st November, pianist Mark Nixon and violinist Katalin Kertesz gave a near-impeccable performance that was the highlight of the evening for many.
After the interval, the three parts of Schuman’s Fantasiestucke for Clarinet and Piano virtually mirrored the composer’s emotional condition. The first of these fantasy pieces was introspective, tender and somewhat sombre, juxtaposed with a livelier almost joyful second section, while the tempo of the third thoroughly justified Schuman’s “rapid, with fire” instruction.
Though this work is heard fairly often, Shelly Levy’s decision to play it with an A clarinet - for which it was written - brought out a darker quality and a hidden warmth not found when played with the now normal higher-pitched B clarinet.
The Ensemble Hans Gal rounded off their concert with Gal’s Trio for Violin, Clarinet and
This 1950 Trio was composed during a decade of intense creativity after World War Two but shows no trace of being influenced by the buffeting Gal had endured before and during the war. Rooted firmly in Austrian and German musical tradition its contrapuntal passages blend with an expressive lyricism that stretch the range of the individual instruments - and the performers.
It was extremely unfortunate for Gal that this work came at a time when “avant garde” was the current fad to the exclusion of all else. This trio embodies Gal’s loving mastery of combinations of different instruments and his particular affinity for clarinet and piano and the Ensemble Hans Gal are to be lauded for their impressive performance.
Their technical excellence and intelligent understanding revealed the innermost Gal, at peace with himself and immune to external pressures.
(In fact, the only work in which Gal allowed external events to influence his compositions was the witty Lilliburlero variations of 1945.)
© Iain Gilmour November 30 2007 First published on EdinburghGuide.com