Ensemble Epomeo

String Trio

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CD Review- McAlister Matheson Music on Gal/Krasa Trios

Gal and Krasa – Complete String Trios
Ensemble Epomeo
Avie AV2259 

Release date September 2012
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Epomeo Play Krasa and Gal

The Avie catalogue now boasts no fewer than ten discs featuring major works of Hans Gál (1890-1987), the Vienna-born composer who settled in Edinburgh after being forced to flee by Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938. His music is well worth hearing. Gál’s musical roots lie with Brahms and Strauss; his style ‘remained resolutely uninfluenced by the output of Schoenberg and his school’, as Conrad Wilson notes succinctly in New Grove. He has a great gift for melody and lyricism, amply demonstrated in his first work for string trio, the Serenade of 1932. It is a refreshing piece in four movements, lasting thirty minutes. The intricately contrapuntal first movement Capriccioso has a jaunty, Haydnesque feel, with lightning-fast changes of mood. There follows a congenial Cantabile with long-breathed melodic lines, a deliberate but elegant Menuetto and a crisp-textured Alla Marcia final movement imbued with humour. By 1971, when his threemovement Trio in F sharp minor Op. 104 was written, Gál’s style had moved on, as evidenced by the winding chromatic phrases of the sombre first movement – although the second movement (a cheerful, catchy kind of perpetuum mobile) has much in common with the earlier trio. The work started life as a commission for violin, viola d’amore and cello from the London Viola d’amore Society, but Gál cannily made this version for traditional string trio simultaneously. Gál and the Czech-born Hans Krása shared a Jewish heritage, but whereas Gál escaped Nazi oppression, Krása was interred in Theresienstadt where he was instrumental in organising the cultural life of the concentration camp, before dying in Auschwitz in 1944. Both his string trios were composed in the last year of his life. Tanec (Dance) is a short, unsettling work, much of it revolving around the sound-world of trains. His Passacaglia and Fuga for violin, viola and cello is more substantial, the short and very spirited fugue being preceded by a Passacaglia with a gravely beautiful opening that transforms into something quite combative. Ensemble Epomeo give eloquent and convincing performances. Should you be interested in listening further to Gál’s music, I would recommend the second and fourth symphonies, the latter having very much the feel of late Strauss.

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CD Review- Tempo Magazine on Gal and Krasa- Complete String Trios

From the July 2013 issue:

 

Epomeo Play Krasa and Gal

“…In yet another release from Avie, Gál’s two pieces for string trio are performed by Ensemble Epomeo, whose cellist is none other than that all-round musician, Kenneth Woods. The Serenade in D dates from 1932 and is light and droll in character without any lowering of the composer’s usual high standards of inspiration and formal mastery. A varied, protean opening Capriccioso delights in catching the unwary listener off balance with its sudden shifts of harmony, texture and dynamics. The ensuing Cantabile features a flowing and luxuriant melody introduced by violin and later assumed by the viola over richly harmonized textures. Classical grace informs the Menuetto, with a romantic trio theme unexpectedly languishing at its centre. The concluding Alla marcia matches the opening movement in devious twists and turns of melodic invention and contains at its heart a typically song-like theme which takes wing effortlessly.

The other Gál piece on the disc, his Trio in F sharp minor, dates from 1971. Commissioned by the London Viola d’Amore Society, it was originally scored for violin, viola d’amore and cello, though the composer also made a version for standard string trio at the same time, and it is in this latter form that the piece appears on the  Avie CD. Though it dates from the same ‘late’ period as the composer’s Triptych for orchestra and Fourth Symphony reviewed above, the Trio is made of sterner stuff. In this rigorously worked-out piece Gál seems to be consciously making connexions with the Austro-German legacy to which his carefully honed musical voice is entirely attuned. An expressive viola solo launches a deeply passionate yet at times wistfully introspective opening Tranquillo con moto. The central Presto’s pointedly rhythmic, principal idea, sempre staccato, is contrasted with a more flowing trio-like episode and is wafted away in a delightfully insouciant closing gesture. Genuine emotional depths are plumbed once again in the concluding theme and variations, each of which is distinctive, yet assumes a logical place within the movement’s cogent overarching structure. One of the most impressive and penetrating of Gál’s later works, the Trio’s craftsmanship is impeccable and, as with all worthwhile compositions, it demands and rewards repeated listening.

These two contrasting Gál works for violin, viola and cello are accompanied by a pair of similarly scored pieces by the Czech composer Hans Krása (1899–1944). Both were written in 1944, whilst the composer was in the Terezin concentration camp and shortly before he was murdered at Auschwitz. Tanec (Dance) shows the quirky influence of Janáček, whilst substantial Passacaglia and Fugue, the last music Krása completed, is more profound and disquieting, at least in the Ensemble Epomeo’s performance, which, at an initially measured tempo, digs deep into this deeply moving score, ensures that each variation is effectively delineated, and brings instinctive virtuosity to the frenzied and terrifying deconstructive conclusions to both the Fugue and Passacaglia sections of the piece.

All four items are played with palpable commitment and inspiriting vigour by Ensemble Epomeo and they are faithfully recorded in a warm and vibrant acoustic. This disc helpfully presents fine examples of Gál’s craft nearly four decades apart and the insightful, bravura performances of the Krása pieces set the seal on a highly recommendable release… “

—Paul Conway

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

A very nice review from the May 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine (Australia)

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Epomeo Play Krasa and Gal
KRASA • GAL
Trio Op 104, Serenade in D, Tanec, Passacaglia and Fugue
Ensemble Epomeo
AVIE AV2259
By Phillip Scott on May 22, 2013

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“Powerful 20th-century String Trios Prove A Real Discovery”.

Chamber music is the ideal medium for composers with a knack for polyphony. Here we have a fascinating disc of string trios by two exact contemporaries who were among the victims of Hitler’s Germany. Hans Gál fled to Scotland and lived a long (if obscure) life, while the Czech Hans Krása was interned at Terezin and killed in Auschwitz in 1944. While their music differs in intensity, both men were skilled at writing counterpoint so all these works are full of interest.

Gál’s Serenade dates from 1932. Notable for its high spirits, it follows in the wake of similar trios by Beethoven and Dohnányi. The Trio of 1971 is understandably more autumnal in quality (apart from its Mendelssohnian Scherzo) and features a set of gentle, lyrical variations as its final movement.

Krása’s music was heavily influenced by the Second Viennese School and is made of tougher stuff. Tanec (or Dance) is a short work evoking the sound of trains, with a tender chorale in the middle section. In the powerful Passacaglia and Fugue, the underlying emotional impetus stretches these highly structured forms almost to breaking point in Krása’s final composition.

The performances by the Ensemble Epomeo are beyond praise: lively, warm-toned and well balanced in excellent sound. Cellist Kenneth Woods penned the informative sleeve note. Genuine buried treasure here.

Copyright © Limelight Magazine. All rights reserved

This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine

AVIE AV2259
Ensemble Epomeo

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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