A swish of the cape reveals another side to this marvelous composer.

“Piano Music of Jack Gallagher” = Sonata; Evening Music; Sonatina; Nocturne; Six Bagatelles; Pastoral; Six Pieces for Kelly; Malambo Nouveau; Happy Birthday, April – Frank Huang, piano – Centaur CRC 3522, 78:13 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

I was in quite the anticipatory mode when this disc arrived. Jack Gallagher is one of my favorite contemporary composers, but as of yet I had only been exposed to his orchestral music, much of which is gargantuan, and all of it ravishing. Surely I was to be treated to nearly 8o minutes of Hammerklavier-like sonorities and lengthy, Opus clavicembalisticum type difficulties requiring extraordinary endurance!


What we get is a veritable flip side of the composer, a recital of sometimes introspective, delicate, and even private utterances, and other times assertive, bold, yet never overbearing piano statements of great conciseness and purity. The piano is not one of Gallagher’s “primary” instruments, by his own admission; yet he loves the tactile feel of the instrument and its immediacy of response. However, as I have found with other composers who did not start out with the piano, the pieces rendered here are very well crafted and thought-out.

Basically they are presented in chronological order on this disc, though quite a few have since been revised. 1973 marks the beginning, with a Sonata that will definitely remind you of Hindemith. Actually, a number of reviews I have read also make that comparison, so I struggled mightily to avoid it, yet its inexorable presence is impossible to ignore. But this is no copycat imitation of the divine Paul H, the modal melodies enjoying a harmonic underpinning that only hints of the German master before changing into something far more American, though not as easy to peg. The simpler, less contrapuntal Sonatina should suffer no prejudice in comparison, as the pianistic chops required at least sound as difficult to pull off as the former.

The Six Bagatelles and the Six Pieces for Kelly, the latter a children’s work—though the quality of the invention belies that assertion—are by far the most characterful pieces on the disc, lovely gems of immediacy and gratification. They reflect, to my mind, the more intimate thoughts of the composer, little melodic text messages designed to make a simple statement without argument. Malambo Nouveau is the most exciting piece here, a barn-burning encore work of spectacular provenance, fittingly ended with the lovely Happy Birthday, April, dedicated to his wife.

One can only hope that the fledgling composition students of the United States are considering the College of Wooster, home of Gallagher’s professorship, as a desired destination for study. If he teaches half as well as he composes, the experience is one worth its weight in gold. Also, kudos to Miami University professor Frank Huang, who turns in brilliant and idiomatic readings of this music, nicely captured at the studios of WFMT in Chicago. Get this disc—don’t think about it, just do it!

—Steven Ritter