Antonio Meneses / Claudio Cruz / Royal Northern Sinfonia

Hans Gál, Edward Elgar: Cello Concertos

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The lode of Jewish music of the World War II era, almost unknown until the 1990s, continues to yield compelling new music. Here is a world-premiere recording of the Cello Concerto, Op. 67, of Hans Gál, played by the all-Brazilian pairing of celllist Antonio Meneses and conductor Claudio Cruz, with Britain's Northern Sinfonia. Of Austro-Hungarian Jewish descent, Hans Gál was the director of the Mainz Conservatory when the Nazis came to the city in 1933. Eventually forced to flee to Britain, he had the bad luck to be imprisoned on suspicions of being a Nazi agent. His aunt and sister killed themselves to avoid transportation to Auschwitz, and his son also committed suicide. The Cello Concerto, Op. 67, was composed in 1944 in the wake of these events; there was no performance on the horizon, and indeed the work did not receive its first performance until 1950, in Sweden. It may thus be regarded as highly personal, and yet it does not have the dark content one might expect. Instead the concerto is a sprawling lyrical piece with a fascinating balance between soloist and orchestra. Generally derived from post-Romantic idioms, it nevertheless has a unique effect. It seems to begin as a sort of "concerto for orchestra" with a prominent cello part and a subtle, atomized treatment of the rest of the ensemble. But the soloistic quality of the cello part is reasserted through its sheer virtuosity, notably long stretches of music in the top register. The outer movements are quite long and not totally cohesive, but the music suggests an affirmation of life after tremendous strains. Meneses is equal to the work's challenges, and he does well to pair it with the Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 85, of Elgar, a work as familiar as the Gál is unknown. You wouldn't choose this recording for the straightforward Elgar alone, but the Gál is an interesting find.

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