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LUCY HEWSON: Second Violin




Monday 11th March, 2019


The final concert in the current season of promotions by Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts was given by an all-girl group, Ensemble Burletta, effectively a string quartet plus clarinet. Theirs was an attractively melodious programme beginning with two arrangements by Mozart of Bach Fugues for string quartet. The clarinet player was yet to come onstage. The first of the Fugues, in d minor, taken by Mozart from No. 8 in d# minor from the Well-tempered Clavier was remarkably clear and delicate in Monday’s performance. The following Fugue in D taken from No. 5 in the same book was played faster and with an extra touch of vigour. These provided the strings and indeed the audience with a fine warm up before clarinettist Shelley Levy joined the ensemble for what turned out to be one of the most immediately attractive pieces in the concert, the Clarinet Quintet op. 107 by Hans Gál. Originally from Vienna (Gál was born in a small village near Vienna). Being from a Jewish family, he had to flee from the Nazis and came first to London with the intention of moving to the United States. However, he stayed in Britain where he met Donald Tovey who invited him to come to Edinburgh where he worked as a lecturer in the Department of Music at Edinburgh University. He had already been a well known composer in Austria and in Germany and along with his work as a teacher, he continued to compose. The Clarinet Quintet op. 107 which the Ensemble Burletta played today was composed in 1977. Hans Gál’s compositional style is wholly tonal like the pre-serial music of Schoenberg or even Webern before they embraced atonal styles. It is very much his own, however.

For many years in the twentieth century, tonal compositions were sneered at both by critics and musicologists (although audiences tended not to like atonal music). This is possibly one reason why Hans Gál’s music more or lass disappeared from concert programmes. Now in the 21st Century however, tonality is coming back into fashion and composers who never ‘went atonal’ are getting a second chance of concert coverage. Groups like Ensemble Burletta and indeed promoters like Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts are to be lauded for bringing composers like Hans Gál back into the limelight.

The Clarinet Quintet opened with a flourish from the clarinet and then the strings. The first movement was full of gently rhapsodic music with delicious melodic lines, pleasing harmonies and counterpoints played lusciously by the ensemble. The strings opened the second movement while the clarinet sang out beautifully with short warm sections for the strings alone. The final movement opened with the cello and then all the strings but the clarinet did not come in until the allegro. This gave us sunny cheery music sometimes with an almost fairy-like lightness in parts. This provided a happy conclusion to a very attractive piece.

The Ensemble Burletta continued with a tonal work by another Viennese émigré, Joseph Horovitz for whom the Ensemble actually played his piece recently at a private concert. As we were told, it is full of fun and life. It began with deliciously sinuous playing by clarinettist Shelley Levy. Lively music later on was interrupted by a fugue, suggesting a moment of good humour from the composer. Based on Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet it carries through Weber’s own humour and amplifies it delightfully.

The final work in the official programme was the Clarinet Quintet op. 115 by Brahms. Both the previous works for clarinet and strings put the clarinet largely out front, not quite as a concerto instrument but sort of getting there in different sections of the music. The first movement of the Brahms Quintet is totally different. Here the clarinet is very much absorbed into the five instrument blend along with the strings. It does rise to the surface now and then but no more than the other instruments. The Ensemble Burletta managed to deliver this blending superbly well. In the Adagio second movement, the clarinet was joined in passionate Hungarian flavoured style with Katalin Kertész’s lovely honeyed violin while the other strings murmured caressingly in the background.

The third movement, Andantino, was played flowingly by all five musicians with the clarinet just floating on top. The opening of the finale flowed on from the previous movement to begin with. It was a series of variations with ever more enthusiastic playing although it ended rather gently with Brahms possibly paying tribute to the smoothest tones of the clarinet.

There had to be an encore after this. Actually there were two! The first was another piece by Brahms, his Hungarian Dance No. 5. The ensemble played this in red hot gypsy style. Shelley Levy was particularly brilliant. A fellow audience member said after the concert, “I wish they had given us more of this!” The second encore we were told was ‘a surprise’, and indeed it was – a tribute to the City which had welcomed the Ensemble so warmly – it was their version of The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen’. It provided a splendid conclusion to the round up of this season’s concerts. We start again in October. Hope to see you all again then!

Alan Cooper

Music Web International

Hans GÁL (1890–1987)
Chamber Music for Clarinet



Hans Gál adopted Scotland as his home after the depredations that blew millions from their homes in and around World War Two. His music has done well these last ten years; this after decades of drought. All four symphonies have been recorded by Avie as have the concertante works for cello and for violin; likewise the piano solo music works as played by Leon McCawley. The Quintet and the Trio are the fruit of his years in the UK while the Serenade hales from the 1930s in his native Vienna.

The Quintet, written when the composer was 87, is the epitome of the fluid and bubbling soul of the instrument. The music is in ceaseless flow. What this composer has to say calms and heals. The language is rooted in the autumnal clarinet scores of Brahms and in this case the branches are not that remote from the roots. The music is imbued with an old-fashioned grace and personable dignity.

The Trio, written when Gal had been living in the UK for twelve years, is a degree more playful but just as warm and "deep pile" as the Quintet. Its demeanour is a shade closer to the English pastoral - the cavatina spirit of Finzi to be found in his Concerto and Bagatelles for the instrument.

The four-movement Serenade is as relaxed as the title would lead you to expect. It comprises an intricate Cantabile, a buffeting Spring breeze of a Burletta packed with character, a serenading Intermezzo in constantly changing mood-finery and an affable Giocoso that pauses at 2:20 for one of Gál's delightful melodies: slow, confident and beguiling.

The typically full notes are by Eva Fox-Gál who has done and continues to do so much to keep the Gál flame fuelled and oxygen-renewed.

It’s unusual to see three different locations for these three sets of sessions and all in one county, Somerset. The plushest sound is that for the Quintet although the differences are matters of fine grain. Welcome music radiating confidence, depth and a smile; all ardently performed.



Rob Barnett








LUCY HEWSON: Second Violin





Tuesday 12th March at 1.30 pm


We were grateful to the Ensemble Burletta for agreeing to add this special lunchtime concert at Newton Dee to their Aberdeen itinerary. There was a good turnout of members of the Newton Dee Community and several people from farther afield to enjoy what was a very generous and attractive programme. It was introduced in warm, cordial style by members of the Ensemble. What follows is not so much a ‘crit’ but rather a report to provide information to Aberdeen Chamber Music Members who owing to work or other commitments are unable to attend these lunchtime events.

The concert opened with what was one of the encores at Monday’s Concert in Queen’s Cross Church, namely the Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Brahms. As on Monday, the Ensemble launched with a will into this fiery and exciting piece with its well known melody. Tuesday’s audience responded with warm enthusiasm. Hans Gál’s Clarinet Quintet is an attractively euphonious piece and the lively finale is particularly irresistible so it was with this that Ensemble Burletta continued their performance. Bright and fleet of fingers and bows it too delighted the audience.

Both these first two pieces had been played at Monday’s concert but then the Ensemble continued with something different, the second movement, Larghetto, from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, K581. Shelley Levy’s dreamy long-breathed clarinet part was the star of the show here, supported by fine muted strings.

The Concertante for Clarinet and String Quartet by Joseph Horovitz was also played on Monday but with its often surprising variety of tempi and styles, even including a fragment of fugue, it was also a welcome addition to the programme.

To follow, there was an arrangement for clarinet and string quartet, possibly by Hans Gál of the Scottish Lullaby ‘O, Can Ye Sew Cushions’ it was delightful, played with considerable tenderness.

I was delighted to hear the next piece, a lively movement from the Clarinet Quintet in B flat Major by Carl Maria von Weber. I don’t know why I have heard so little of his music at live concerts. I have come across the music of Webern far more often.

The Ensemble concluded their performance with what was their second encore on Monday, a special arrangement of The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen. I think everybody in the audience recognised that melody. Did you know that it was composed by Mary Webb, an English Lady who never visited Aberdeen? I have only ever seen the Northern Lights in Aberdeen once, a few years ago – an event so rare that my grand niece and nephew were got out of their beds by their parents and driven in their pyjamas and dressing gowns to the edge of the town so that they could see them clearly. The first singer to perform the song was the Scottish tenor Robert Wilson and then, years later the Alexander Brothers, but now I can add Ensemble Burletta to that list!

Alan Cooper

St Luke's Concert Ensemble Burletta October 7th 2016


Superlatives with this concert series might seem monotonous – but judge for yourself: renowned Toccata Classics have released their CD of Hans Gal, one composer featured. The interval saw a buying frenzy. Repertoire-roving Ensemble Burletta, risen stars internationally, fall on Brighton.


Shelley Levy clarinettist partners violinist Katalin Kertész, Nichola Joy Blakey and Cressida Nash on viola and cello.


Rezso Kokai (1906-62) is new to me; his 1952 Quartettino’s a chirruping neo-classical Parisian affair; then suddenly Hungarian, with Zoltan Kodaly’s rhapsodic Summer Evening beating in the swooning heart of its Canzonetta.


Viennese Hans Gal (1890-1987), whom Kodaly called the Lost Hungarian because of his roots, was also a Jewish exile to Edinburgh, where despite co-founding its Festival, he’s not as honoured as his re-emerging fame deserves. His spirited but autumnally gentle 1935 Serenade out-faces persecution (though the ensemble take their name from its shadowy burlesque movement), ending with astonishing serenity.


Kodaly arrives himself at 23, in 1905: his string trio Intermezzo, through rippling modulations edges a penumbra of later melodic warmth. Johnann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) put Beethoven out of business as pianist, with his feared rondos. Haydn gave him his old job. We remember his piano concertos, but his 1807 Quartetto’s deeply loved by chamber players. There’s tension in grace, memorable bubbly invention. If Levy’s eloquent clarinet dominates, the string players with Kertész at their head delight in textures, revelling in solo moments. Collectively stunning.


Simon Jenner

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