Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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CD Review- American Record Guide on Gal/Krasa Complete String Trios

From the November/December issue of American Record Guide


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“Ensemble Epomeo play with finesse and sensitivity, nicely capturing Krasa’s manic grotesqueries as well as Gal’s elegance and tenderness.”

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CD Review- Gramophone Magazine on Gal/Krasa Complete String Trios

From the December, 2012 Issue of Gramophone Magazine

Critic’s Choice

“Ensemble Epomeo provide ravishing accounts of both Gal works, fully in sympathy with the idiom…  A splendid disc I cannot get enough of.”

 

 

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CD Review- RECORDING OF THE MONTH: MusicWeb International, Steve Arloff on Gal/Krasa Complete String Trios

A new review from the popular website MusicWeb-International for our debut CD from critic Steve Arloff. The disc has been selected by MusicWeb as a RECORDING OF THE MONTH for October, 2012.

The complete review follows below, but shouldn’t you go ahead and order the CD first?


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It seems that at last the star of Hans Gál is in the ascendant with symphonies (2;3;4), hisviolin concerto,cello concerto,cello works,violin and piano works,piano trios,piano duosand piano solo music (reviewreview), to name a few, being released in recent years. This is a vast improvement upon the situation that pertained only in 2001 when there were but three works by him that could be found on disc; today the total tops 40.

Born in Vienna of Hungarian Jewish extraction Gál not surprisingly left Germany where he had worked as Director of the Conservatory in Mainz after he was dismissed by the Nazis and his music was banned. First he returned to Vienna until Austria was annexed by Hitler in 1938 then he came to the UK though he had a hard time of it with a wife and two children and no immediate job. In May 1940 he was incarcerated due to the panicky atmosphere that pertained in Britain at the time, firstly in Huyton then in the internment camp in Douglas, Isle of Man. Though Gál was not classed as a category A alien all of whom were detained when war broke out, Churchill’s edict to “collar the lot” following the fall of France led to category B aliens and a large percentage of category C being arrested too, adding up to a total of over 27,000 internees. It is ironic that Jews who were the most obviously sympathetic to the Allies should have been included in this sweep. Eventually the folly of this policy was recognised and Gál and many others were released after a few months. For most of his long life he resided in Scotland where he added to the rich musical life there working at Edinburgh University until well beyond retirement age.

Gál’s Serenade in D Op.41 dates from 1932 and is a most delightful work full of free-flowing melodic lines with an upbeat Haydnesque beginning that belies what’s to come which is altogether more contrapuntal but still of a generally whimsical character and the first movement fairly skips along its ten minute length. Gál certainly knew how to write a good tune and wasn’t afraid to do so at a time when the avant-garde brigade were flexing their musical muscles and when to be experimental was deemed to be de rigueur. Though modern in character this music is totally beguiling and the main theme will easily become one of those little worms that play themselves over and over again in your mind and soon have you convinced that you’ve known it for years despite it being a world première recording. The second movement marked Cantabile. Adagio is a heartfelt, beautiful little tune that while darker is so gorgeously lush that it will still cause you to smile with delight. The main theme which is introduced by the violin is taken up at the close by the viola against a wonderfully rich background. The Menuetto is back to the Haydnesque style of the opening movement with the cello playing a significant role in conversation. The violin hovers above it in canon and one is tempted to speculate that Papa Haydn himself would have heartily approved of its inventive character. The final movement Alla marcia is another wonderfully melodious and brilliantly scintillating piece of writing. All kinds of clever musical devices propel things along and the work finishes with a flourish.

Gál’s Trio Op.104 was composed almost forty years later in 1971 to a commission from the London Viola d’Amore Society and the version here for a conventional trio was written at the same time. It is a work that is altogether darker in mood than theSerenadeas perhaps is to be expected from a composer of over 80 as opposed to one of 42. In any event it is another example of this highly individual and marvellous composer who appears never to have been at a loss to come up with fabulous tunes that win the listener over on first hearing. While the opening Tranquillo con moto in dark and deeply reflective the Presto is light and humorous. It dances along its short length and leads into the finale Tema con variazione with seven distinct sections. The players’ cellist Kenneth Woods wrote the notes. He has perfectly captured the essence of this last movement which, as he puts it, incorporates “recurring cycles of despair and hope, without Gál ever tipping his hand as to whether the work is likely to end in darkness or light”. He explains further that Gál’s solution is to “avoid a resolution entirely” by concluding with an Alla Marcia in humorous mode. This alludes to the fact that whatever happens, life marches on and “The cycle of tragedy and hope is eternal, the root of all human comedy…” What better way to look at life and to share that outlook with others in musical terms that are so unambiguous.

The two other works on this disc are by a composer from the same era, the same part of the world (central Europe), and the same Jewish heritage, who suffered the fate that Gál undoubtedly would have done had he not come to Britain when he did. Hans Krása was also sent to an internment camp and the insert in the CD shows a photo of each composer alongside their camps. However, Krása ended up in Terezin in the north of his native Czechoslovakia where he was active in the busy musical life that pertained there and like other composers confined there wrote several works in these inauspicious surroundings. Then in October 1944 he was moved to Auschwitz along with fellow composers Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas, where he was sent to the gas chambers just two days after his arrival. I find the thought of the deaths of these highly talented composers almost unbearable, particularly when I hear their music and imagine what other joys they would have brought to the world had they lived. Whilst rejoicing in the life of Hans Gál who lived to the age of 97 and whose music developed over a long and productive life it is heartrending to listen to the music of Krása who died at 45. Both works here were written in his final year. Krása, in common with his fellow composers in Terezin, refused to allow their Nazi captors to crush their spirit. These works are defiant responses to the madness that The Third Reich unleashed upon the world. In Tanec(dance) which title belies its content which is savage and biting, there are evocations of trains that contrast feelings of nostalgia with overt menace. I was reminded of Steve Reich’s Different  Trains and am pretty sure that Reich may well have drawn inspiration from this work for his own. There is so much said in such a short piece it is quite overwhelming. In Passacaglia and Fuga,  Krása’s last completed work, he expresses himself so profoundly it is enough to make you weep. Kenneth Woods’ excellent notes explain the musical structure perfectly which enables the listener to get so much more out of the music than they would without them. I’m not going to try to paraphrase or come up with my own interpretation which I couldn’t do in any case but will quote his summing up of the work as “…discussion degenerates into argument and argument descends into violence.” Who can wonder at such musical thoughts when you are knowingly heading for extermination for being born something your captors will not tolerate.

The disc leaves you feeling profoundly moved as well as drained and I can hardly imagine how it must feel to play such music. This is an extremely important musical document on all counts as it introduces us to two hitherto unrecorded works by a great 20th century composer who exposure has at last revealed a huge talent and two works by a wonderful composer whose creative genius was snuffed out in his prime.

The Ensemble Epomeo play all four compositions with huge commitment and brilliant flair revealing every nuance in four wonderful works for string trio. These can sit alongside anything written in this genre.

In every way this is a fantastic disc that listeners will want to hear again and again.

Steve Arloff

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CD Review- International Record Review, Calum MacDonald on Gal/Krasa Complete String Trios

A new review from critic and musicologist Calum MacDonald in the November 2012 issue of International Record Review for Ensemble Epomeo’s recording of the complete trios of Hans Gal and Hans Krasa. On newsstands now, but better yet, subscribe to the magazine

The complete review follows below, but shouldn’t you go ahead and order the CD first?


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Kenneth Woods has already made his mark, conducting the Orchestra of the Swan, in a notable series of Avie recordings of Hans Gál’s orchestral works. Here he dons another hat, as cellist of the trio Ensemble Epomeo, and carries the good fight into the realms of Gál’s chamber music, for the principal pieces on this disc are that composer’s two works for violin, viola and cello, and very rewarding they are.

The Serenade in D, Op. 41, composed in 1932, when Gál was at the height of his powers strikes me as a real discovery. In his booklet notes Woods notes the obvious debts to Haydn and Mozart and to the serenade genre as a whole, yet it strikes me very much as a work of its time. The big opening movement, Capriccioso, Allegro assai, is harmonically complex and imaginative, reminding us that this is the work of a contemporary of Hindemith and Zemlinsky. If the other movements—a beautiful Cantabile, a Menuetto and a concluding Alla Marcia—refer more clearly to classical models, they do so with wit, resource and a decidedly  “contemporary” spin; and there is enough going beneath the surface in terms of harmonic ambiguity to justify interpreting the work in the light of the anxious political times in which is was written. This Serenade deserves to be set beside Gál’s four string quartets, recorded some years ago by the Edinburgh Quartet on Meridian, as one of his most important chamber scores.

Nearly 40 years separate the Serenade from Gál’s late Trio in F-sharp minor, Op. 104, which was written in 1971 on a commission from the London Viola d’Amore Society and was originally for the line-up of violin, viola d’amore and cello (Gál made the version we hear on this disc, for standard string trio, simultaneously with the viola d’amore version, which would interesting to hear also). This too is a substantial work, in what seems much more a “late,” essentialized style—yet one which also looks back to the great nineteenth-century Viennese traditions of which Gál felt himself to be heir—not with much nostalgia but with decorum and respect. The extended set of Theme and Variations which serves as finale, especially, reminds me- though there is no exact equivalence in expression- of the similarly summing-up quality of the variation-finale of Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet. This is a cherishable utterance of wisdom and experience.

While Gál, despite losing most of his family during the Second World War, survived in Scottish exile to a distinguished old age, his younger Czech contemporary Hans Krása instead had a brief sojourn as one of the most gifted of the composers crammed into the Terezin concentration camp, before being gassed at Auschwitz in October 1944. His two works for string trio date from that same year, and by now they have rightly been recorded several times—most notably up to now on a splendid Nimbus disc from Daniel Hope, Philip Dukes and Paul Watkins coupled with music of two other brilliant unfortunates, Erwin Schulhoff and Gideon Klein. In his openness both to the conflicting influences of Janáček (in the pawky Tanec) and Schönberg, Krása produced a music of vital symbiosis, albeit on a small scale in these two works.

The Passacaglia and Fugue was in fact the last music he completed, and if I think I place this new recording slightly above the Nimbus rival it must be for the treatment of the Passacaglia, much more the substantial of the two movements, where Woods and his colleagues, adopting a very broad tempo, discover even deeper refinements of instrumental tone and character in differentiating the individual variations. Indeed, all the performances radiate sympathy for the music and a focused intensity that bespeaks both familiarity with this out-of-the-way repertoire and considerable musicianship; these are not easy works to bring out in such vital and well-characterized interpretations. Avie’s recording, too, is splendidly resonant and warm. A very recommendable disc for anyone interested in either composer.

Calum MacDonald