GAL: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 67; ELGAR: Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 – Antonio Meneses, cello/ Northern Sinfonia/ Claudio Cruz – Avie AV2237, 61:48 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Cello virtuoso Antonio Meneses (b. 1957) juxtaposes (rec. 5-7 January 2012 in Hall One, The Sage Gateshead, UK) two concertos, the familiar 1919 Cello Concerto of Edward Elgar with that of Hans Gal, composed in 1944 under extreme emotional strain. Austrian composer Gal (1890-1987) studied with Richard Robert and Eusebius Mandycewski, and he found support from Richard Strauss and Wilhelm Furtwaengler. Stylistically, Gal embraced the conservative dictates of Brahms while evolving a personal polyphony and modality that manages a Romantic ethos without succumbing to archaism or pedantic imitation of orthodoxy. The 1940s proved spiritually damaging for Gal, his having been dismissed from the Conservatory at Mainz because of anti-Semitic legislation in Germany, his flight to England, and the suicides of immediate family members to avoid deportation to Auschwitz. The Cello Concerto did not receive its premier until 1950 by the Goeteborg Symphony under Armando La Rosa Parodi and cellist Guido Vecchi.
The Gal Concerto projects a soaring sadness and occasional bravura but not desolation, as one might expect. The piece tests the upper regions of the instrument’s range, and the cadenza enters startlingly early. Gal also integrates a lyrical duet for the cello with the solo oboe. The orchestral tissue can become dense and contrapuntal, but unlike Brahms, the work does not lose the concerto character and assume a symphony-with-solo-obbligato format. Winds, strings, and horns in thick counterpoint occupy the center of the movement, yet a tender sentiment emerges that might echo the expansiveness we hear in post-Romantics like Korngold or Bridge. The bucolic A-flat Major Andante exerts a more improvisatory ethos, again asking the oboe to serve in a virtual double-concerto role with the flowing figures in the cello. We recall how the oboe provides the melos for Brahms in his Violin Concerto. This movement, too, indulges the solo in a thoughtful cadenza. The Allegretto vivace e con spirito in 2/4 opens in a martially playful cast, and it wants to move to a culminating E Major, a kind of moral victory. The ubiquitous oboe reappears, as does yet another cadenza that exploits the full tessitura of the instrument, a miniature Bach suite. Meneses makes a strong case for this work’s inclusion in more artists’ standard repertoire.
Meneses makes a point, explicit in conductor Adrian Boult’s commentary on the Elgar Concerto as “a new kind of music, with a more economical line, terser in every way,” as compared to the Violin Concerto, that he, Meneses, means to conform to the spare emotional exertion demonstrated by Elgar himself in his inscription with Beatrice Harrison. Still, this last important orchestral work by Elgar achieves a poignant simplicity of expression whose often modal character testifies to a deep melancholy, a sense of farewell, felt by this composer who venerated Brahms almost above all others. Some see the cello part’s serving as narrator and protagonist in this narrative structure of four movements, the recitativo figure’s appearing at crucial transitions, even in the midst of otherwise mercurial sentiments. The desolation of the first movement gives way to the busy Scherzo, a likely allusion to the Brahms B-flat Major Piano Concerto. The lovely Adagio in B-flat Major invokes a personal, anguished dream-vision that may not resolve itself ideally. The episodic finale, declamatory in nature, assumes the militant and lyrical stance of former pages, its symphonic stature reclaiming aspects of the Adagio. Meneses and conductor Cruz achieve a serenity of means, an easy fluidity here, that bespeaks total focus in their execution of its valedictory score and its curious admixture of triumph and impending tragedy. Fine sonics grace this Avie disc, and the Gal Cello Concerto here claims its first recording.
—Gary Lemco