Recordings on the Melba label are always worth listening to. Certainly, there is an adventurousness about the label’s choices that is as refreshing as it is rare. Not for them repertoire which has been recorded on innumerable occasions on other labels. More often than not, Melba rescues works forgotten or neglected. In fact, three of the five works on this CD have never been recorded before.
One of these – Gal’s Suite for viola and piano opus 102a – is far and away the chief joy of this recording with both musicians at the very top of their game responding to the work’s myriad facets with extraordinary skill and insight.
In the 1930s, Hans Gal and Ernst Krenek both sought sanctuary from Hitler’s murderous madness, Gal because he was Jewish and Krenek because his music was considered by the Nazis as ‘degenerate’. Gal left for Britain after the Anschluss and Krenek went to the USA in 1938. Both survived the war.
One of Krenek’s greatest successes was his Jonny spielt auf, a jazz opera with a black musician as its main character. It was hugely popular in Europe before the rise of Hitler. Krenek, incidentally, married Anna, Gustav Mahler’s daughter but the relationship lasted a year. Alma, incidentally, wanted Krenek to complete her late husband’s Symphony No 10 but Krenek lost interest after editing the first two movements.
Interestingly, there’s an Australian connection to his Violin Concerto: Alma Moodie, perhaps our most brilliant violinist ever, used her influence to obtain funding for Krenek’s concerto and, in gratitude, he dedicated the concerto to her.
Gal turned up in Scotland where he composed and also co-founded the famous Edinburgh Festival. He lived to 96 and was apparently in good shape until almost the end. But in recent years, his name had faded from collective memory. But this CD brings him to the attention of a new constituency – and not before time.
Krenek eventually made his way to Los Angeles – but the celebrity of his European years was never to be regained in the USA.
Gal’s Suite for viola and piano opus 102a finds both Benedict and Young in impressive form – and recorded sound quality is excellent. I especially admire the movement marked furioso: it’s assertive, march-like, lively. And there’s frankly beautiful clarity of piano tone in the minuet – and I listened three times to the concluding burla. Its insouciance is a delight. Another gem is the charmingly meditative Impromptu for viola and piano by Gal.
Benedict is impressive in Krenek’s Sonata for solo viola opus 92 no 3. Listen, in particular, to the scherzo which comes across as a nimble, peekaboos gem.