GÁL; SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Trios
The Hans Gál revival – on disc, at least – continues apace. With the symphonies, concertos and concertinos, complete piano music and string quartets all available (but alas none of the operas), there remain gaps in his chamber music – a major one of which is filled by this scintillating release. (Pianist Sarah Beth Briggs – whose marvellous recording of the Piano Concerto was my Critic’s Choice in 2016 – recently released another Gál chamber disc on Toccata Classics.)
The Piano Trio in E (1923) is, as one should expect by now of Gál, a model of Classical balance if not harmony or structure. Cast in a slow-fast-slow format, it is a work of (mostly) genial disposition, belying the post-Great War instability of Germany and, indeed, the composer’s fragile financial position. Perhaps this is represented in the central Allegro violente Scherzo, although the Trio is as sweet as could be. The playing throughout is simply exquisite: yes, it is a beautifully written gift for the three performers; but Briggs, David Juritz and Kenneth Woods make the most of it, as they do the earlier Variations on a Viennese ‘Heurigen’ Melody (1914), full of the innocence pre-Great War. Both works should be staples of the piano trio repertoire.
The coupling of Shostakovich’s Second Trio (1944) provides the greatest possible contrast, although it also has wartime – and Jewish – connections. This is a powerful and measured interpretation of arguably the greatest piano trio of modern times. I have heard faster accounts, and more outwardly (and mistakenly) virtuoso ones. The strength of this version is the primacy of the music. The closing sequence is the crux, the breathtakingly serene passage before the reprise of the ‘dance of death’. It is immaculately rendered here. Recommended with all possible enthusiasm.