GÁL Piano Concerto MOZART Piano Concerto No 22
If there is a happier 20th-century piano concerto than Hans Gál’s of 1948, I don’t know what it is. Playing for 32 minutes in this premiere recording, its three substantial movements are brimful of memorable, catchy ideas and joie de vivre. The Allegro energico ma non troppo first movement opens with a fleeting premonition of Rawsthorne’s wonderful Second Concerto but proceeds along its own individual path, wearing a broad grin throughout. The central Adagio is one of the loveliest things he ever penned and the final Allegretto vivace Kenneth Woods describes as ‘boiling over with wit and sparkle’.
The sunny demeanour is all the more astonishing given the circumstances of Gál’s life at the time, deftly summarised by Woods in his booklet essay: he was twice displaced by the Nazis, interned in Britain and suffered the deaths of his mother, aunt, sister and eldest son. Sarah Beth Briggs gives a wonderfully balanced reading of music that seems familiar – in its classical poise and charm – and strange (much occurs beneath the surface, especially harmonically, that confirms its modernity). Kenneth Woods and the Royal Northern Sinfonia accompany superbly.
There is much to enjoy in the Mozart E flat Concerto, too, directed from the keyboard by Briggs, with leader Bradley Creswick as co-director. In a nicely relaxed reading, Briggs uses the cadenzas (probably recorded for the first time) by her former teacher, Denis Matthews, rather than Hummel’s as used by Perahia in his classic recording with the ECO. Briggs’s interpretation is not embarrassed by the comparison. With crystal-clear sound, this is the most enjoyable concerto disc I have heard since Krenek’s piano concertos (4/16) and Deborah Pritchard’s Wall of Water (5/15). Hang on: didn’t Woods conduct those, too?