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Richard HOL: Symphony No.1 in C minor; Symphony No.3 in B flat
Residentie Orchestra The Hague/Matthias Bamert
CHANDOS CHAN 9796 [54'58"]

MILKMAN'S SON - SUCCESSFUL MUSICIAN - DEAD. So a Dutch tabloid might have headlined Richard Hol's demise, aged 79, in 1904. Despite Hol's indigenous achievements as composer, conductor, pianist and educator, these two symphonies are only now receiving their first recording; and I had a blank reaction when scanning Chandos's release sheets. Nevertheless I'm always on the lookout for unfamiliar music and musicians - being curious finds you wonderful discoveries. These two Hol symphonies are not quite that though.

This is the first release of a Chandos series devoted to 19th- and 20th-century Dutch music. Not surprisingly for his era, Hol's music reveals a strong German influence. In his booklet note, Leo Samama cites Schubert and Schumann as references. Certainly, more the former though - and like Schubert, Hol can be repetitive - but I would say a stronger link is Weber. The pensive slow introduction to the C minor piece suggests Der Freischutz's Overture; in the ensuing, breezy Allegro, Hol's scoring has similarities with Weber's.

For a 38-year-old, Hol's First Symphony is a tad too apprentice-like, short on really strong ideas if not unattractive tunes; the development of the first movement relies on fugato recall of incipient material rather than a transformation of it. The song-like slow movement, for all its charm, doesn't quiet blossom as it initially suggests. The scherzo (which I feel Bamert could have taken a little faster) sounds like a slightly sinister version of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" - the words `If you go down to the woods today…' came to mind! More pertinently there's more than a suggestion here of the scherzos of Berwald's Singuliere and E flat Symphonies - especially the latter (masterpieces both, Sixten Ehrling's inspired BIS recordings the unequivocal first choice) - but Hol doesn't emulate Berwald's astonishing lightness of touch, harmonic interest or instrumental incident. Bamert sweeps attacca into the finale's dramatic opening. This quasi-operatic prelude soon yields to a main idea that proves to be a first cousin to the scherzo, a dynamic movement that journeys to it close in some style.

The 1884 B flat Symphony is a more ambitious piece, if not much longer at 30 minutes. 59-year-old Hol is now less reliant on Germanic influence. He has not only found a more individual voice and greater confidence, he is - by accident or design - echoing Tchaikovsky, Sullivan (without Gilbert), Parry and even anticipating early Elgar. The first movement is an altogether assured piece with an aspirational development section. I did raise a smile come the scherzo - we're off down to the woods again! I suspect this sub-Mendelssohnian movement was composed much earlier than its companions were (Samama opines 1867 marked this Symphony's gestation). The `landscape at dusk' (my description) slow movement - achieved by some lovely string writing - is quite personal. This movement may lose direction but is made curious by two puckish, charming interludes. The last movement combines the talents of Bizet and Gounod with a dash of Sullivan; it trips along very happily. A couple of moments aside when Hol suggests he is going to be portentous, the closing bars have a Dvorakian lilt.

Anyone interested in, say, Berwald, Bruch and Glazunov - and the 19th-century symphony in general - will find this Chandos release rewarding. Hopefully Hol's remaining two symphonies will follow. Bamert conducts fine performances with Chandos providing excellent sound.


Colin Anderson


Colin Anderson

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