Monday 6 February 2017

A most welcome release from Centaur Records of some very attractive piano works by Jack Gallagher, wonderfully played by Frank Huang

In November 2015 I was pleased to review a Naxos release of Jack Gallagher’s very fine  Symphony No. 2, ‘Ascendant’ performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnn Falletta

Now from Centaur Records comes an equally fine recording of piano music by Jack Gallagher played by Frank Huang

CRC 3522

This new recording brings works that range across the composer’s career to date, from 1971 to 2014 commencing with Gallagher’s Sonata for Piano (1973/2005). Dedicated to his wife, the sonata received its first performance in April 1973 by pianist Lawrence Schubert at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

In three movements, the Allegro vivo opens fluently and buoyantly with Frank Huang finding a lovely forward momentum. A slower second section soon follows before moments of increased volatility, developing through passages of more complexity before finding more of the opening flow to lead to a decisive coda. A leisurely Andante follows to which Huang brings a fine touch, beautifully shaped and gently rising to some exquisite peaks. There are some lovely limpid phrases before, centrally, finding much passion as indeed the music does later until leading to a hushed coda. The Allegro energico rises purposefully before finding a gentler flow. The drama of the opening soon returns and it is this contrast of two elements that pervades with this pianist providing some thrilling playing.

This is a most engaging sonata that receives a particularly fine performance.

Evening Music (1998/2009) was premiered by Laura Silverman at the College of Wooster, Ohio in April 2008. Broad expansive phrases open before more dynamic moments occur. Huang brings a real richness to many parts of this atmospheric piece with some lovely gentle harmonies.

The Sonatina for Piano (1976/2008) was first performed in January 1978 by Lawrence Schubert in the McGaw Chapel, The College of Wooster. It is in three movements with an Allegro assai that brings a fast, forward moving, jaunty theme that works through some terrific little variations. Again it is Huang’s fine phrasing and fluency that adds so much, often finding a terrific rhythmic buoyancy.  There is a fine breadth to the Andante cantabile (Berceuse) as it makes its way leisurely forward with Huang revealing so many colours and rich tones. The concluding Vivo has a dancing delicacy soon interrupted by more dynamic moments. The music soon finds a brief moment of more rhythmic thrust before dancing forward again. There are more moments of dynamic contrast before the music moves quickly to the coda.

Nocturne (1976/2008) was premiered by Jeri-Mae Astolfi at the American Swedish Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota in April 2008. There is a lovely gentle rubato to this peaceful work, a gentle sway, with perhaps hints of a French influence. The music is developed through some beautiful passages with Huang revealing some lovely little decorations and details. Rising in dynamics occasionally it later moves through a lovely descending passage that leads to moments of great delicacy in the more florid moments. Eventually the opening gentler sway returns but not without a brief passionate moment before the gentle coda.

This is a quite beautiful piece wonderfully played by Huang.

The Six Bagatelles (1979) were first performed by the composer for the Bellville, Ohio Music Club but received their first public performance by Amy Breneman at the College of Wooster. Intrada leaps in, full of energy; with a strong rhythmic pulse, before a brief gentler section that soon gives way as the music leaps ahead to a brisk coda. The second Bagatelle is the same Berceuse as appears in the second movement of Gallagher’s Sonatina for Piano. The Capriccietta has a lively spring to which Huang brings a lovely touch, beautifully shaped before a rather lovely Canzone Semplice that is full of gentle melancholy, pointed up by lovely phrasing. The Arietta is equally gentle, with a stronger surge before its gentle coda. Finally there is a Rondino that has a fine rhythmic opening that soon gives way to a rolling, broader section that rises in strength before the opening rhythm returns for the coda.
The short Pastorale (1978) was published as part of Three Short Waltzes. It takes a gentle walking pace with a gentle rhythm, full of nostalgia, beautifully written.

Six Pieces for Kelly (1989) received their first complete public performance by the composer at the Tuesday Musical Club of Akron, Ohio in September 1995. Intended for young performers there is a piquant little March, a slow, rather faltering Lullaby, exquisitely shaped, a lively Piping Song with a Scotch snap and the sound of a drone, a flowing, rather French Chanson d’Insouciance, a slow beautiful Folksong with a rather wistful in nature and a brief strident, fast moving Balkan Dance.

These are wonderful little pieces showing this composer’s gift for writing for all levels of ability whilst bringing beauty and interest.

Malambo Nouveau (2000/2009) originated as an encore piece for the composer and organist Carson Cooman. In its new and expanded form it was premiered by pianist Angelin Chang for the Steinway Society of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh in September 2009. The piece picks up rather well after the Balkan Dance with dissonances and complex harmonies, brilliantly handled by Huang. It moves through some terrific passages, full of intricacies and fast, fluent writing, brilliantly played here.

Happy Birthday, April (1976/2014), written for the composer’s wife brings a lighter feel, an attractive flowing melody taken through some lovely variations.

This is a most welcome release of some very attractive works, wonderfully played by Frank Huang. The recording made at the WFMT Studios, Chicago is exceptional, setting the soloist in a natural acoustic. 

With booklet notes from the composer this makes a very attractive release. 

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