I am generally so fond of Anthony Goldstone’s playing, whether as soloist or as here, in duet with his wife, Caroline Clemmow, that I enjoy reviewing every disc I can get my hands on. He (they) does (do) not disappoint here, giving us the warm, lyrical, and ever-so-slightly modern but mostly tonal works of Hans Gal.
As pointed out in the liner notes, Gal’s piano duets were a small portion of his oeuvre but not an insignificant one. When he published the Three Marionettes in 1958 he wrote, “When I was young, piano duet playing was a favorite pastime of music lovers. I am afraid this habit has very much diminished but I have always maintained my love for it.” In a sense, Gal’s love of piano duets shows itself in every piece on this album. In this specific trio of pieces, Gal shows himself a deft creator of moods as well as characters. The music has its share of quick harmonic changes and chromatics, yet remains melodic and accessible while he paints brief but telling portraits of “Pantalone,” “Columbine,” and “Arlecchino.”
The Serbian Dances, composed in 1916, are very much in the tradition of Brahms and Dvorak, their lively folk rhythms and allusions to various peoples of the region (Slav Serbs, Croats, Muslims, and Jews) charming as well as infectious. Indeed, Gal orchestrated some of them to avoid piracy, but the full set of six pieces—not terribly long at 21 minutes—makes a fine concert work in its own right. The falling flatted thirds, sixths, and other “ethnic” modes (including crushed note clusters) continually add interest to the pieces, as do the fluctuating tempos, somewhat different from the rhythmic layout of the Brahms pieces. No. 5 in B is the most interesting of the six in form, vacillating as it does between slow and fast passages almost continually and without warning. No. 6 in A Minor, though having some medium-tempo passages, generally tends toward speed and energy, bringing the set to an exciting climax.
Gal wrote his Concertino for piano and orchestra in 1934, but then made an arrangement for two pianos. As Goldstone and Clemmow point out in their notes, this version sacrifices the juxtaposition of the string orchestra with the piano but creates an interesting antiphony between the two pianos. Here the melodic language as well as the layout, but not the harmonies, hark back to 18th-century models. In a way, it reminded me of Strauss’s Dance Suite after Couperin, though the construction is more Classical and less Baroque. (Goldstone’s allusion to Hindemith is also quite apropos, as that composer also enjoyed writing modern works based on earlier models.) Indeed, of all the pieces so far on this disc, this sounds the most modern harmonically without borrowing unusual modes from ethnic folk music.
The Three Impromptus , though written in 1940, were not published and only received their first public performance in 1993 by these two artists. The music is somewhat interesting but not quite as fine as the earlier works on this CD. The concluding Pastoral Tune, originally written for six hands at one piano in 1954, was adapted for this recording by Goldstone for piano four-hands. It is a charming piece, albeit brief and somewhat lightweight.
Goldstone and Clemmow, as usual, are thoroughly into the spirit of the music they perform. It’s difficult for me to think of any other regularly performing piano duo of today who so selflessly give of themselves to the composers whose work they serve. There is nothing the least bit pretentious, overdone, or underdone in their performances; indeed, one is scarcely aware of personalities in their playing whatsoever. They simply give one the music, in the style of the composer, and do so with joy as well as humility. Would that the classical world had more artists of this caliber.