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August HALM (1869-1929)
Symphony in A major (1911-1924) [53:40]
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen/Peter Borin
Rec. 2-3 June 2004, Reutlingen, Germany. Südwestrundfunk. DDD
STERLING CDS-1064-2 [53:40]


The Swedish classical recording company, Sterling was borne of Bo Hyttner’s passion for romantic era music. He garnered a major archive of tapes of symphonies, concertos and overtures. All of this was happening while he was running his record shop. It finally came to the point where the record shop had to go and where the recording of Romantic music became both the endeavour and the prize. At this point the world began to benefit from a veritable stream of recordings of rare romantic pieces.

Halm was born in the home city of the orchestra who with the Swedish born Per Borin have now championed this symphony onto compact disc. His is not a household name - not even in households with strong convictions about the romantic repertoire. He is so obscure that he does not even rate an entry in my 1950 Grove V. Perhaps things have improved for the New Grove.

To get some background, independent of the typically full liner-note by Lee Rothfarb, I went to the 1926 ‘Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians’. There Halm is mainly credited as an author. He was born at Gross-Altdorf, Württemberg. He began as a theological student at the University of Tübingen. Then he moved to Munich where his teachers included Bruckner and Rheinberger. He held various teaching posts at Haubinda and Wickersdorf before becoming director of the men’s choral society at Ulm. His writings included various academic tomes, a book on Bach’s concerto form and another on Bruckner’s symphonies (Munich, 1912). Among the compositions there are five string quartets, three serenades for string trio, three sonatas for solo violin, two sonatas for violin and piano, a piano concerto and a symphony for string orchestra. In addition to the A major symphony there is also another for full orchestra this time in F major.

August Halm’s Symphony is right on message. It is thoroughly romantic, soaked in pastoral grandiloquence, birdsong, charming visions and gentle imagery. Halm takes a stance that is both reactionary and backward looking ... and the none the worse for that. The works to which his symphony is intermittently related include: Brahms 3 and 4, Beethoven’s Pastoral, Bruckner 4, Schubert’s Ninth, Grieg’s Gynt music, Dvořák 5 and 6, Schumann 2 and 3, Karl Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding and Smetana’s Festive and Ma Vlast. The glittering prize among the movements is the lovely adagio. This takes a dowdy theme from the first movement and develops it swan-like into something intensely and swooningly romantic. The result is caught creatively between Tchaikovsky, Mahler (Adagietto), Rachmaninov and John Barry. The Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen produce a warm strength from their massed strings but are far from infallible and in the finale Rondo there are some rough moments. Against that you can set some lovingly shaped woodwind writing especially in the first movement and in general a highly accomplished approach. There are several extremely memorable moments including the point in the finale (8:40) where the horns and trombones are called on to yawp like a chorus of ursine malcontents. Truth to tell the finale meanders, creaks and groans more than a little but there are plenty of engaging events along the road. The piece ends not wholly convincingly with a snatched Brucknerian gesture of defiance.

This is the latest disc in Sterling’s ‘Deutsche Romantiker’ series; the seventh to be released.

Halm is no major discovery but his gift for pleasing pastoral invention is entertaining and if grand profundity is not really in evidence there is still much here to enjoy.

Rob Barnett


Vol.1: Richard WETZ Symphony No. 3 Berlin SO/Erich Peter STERLING CDS 1041-2

Vol. 2: Norbert BURGMÜLLER Symphony No. 1 Hugo STAEHLE Symphony No. 1 Orchester der Staatstheater Kassel/Marc Piollet STERLING CDS-1046-2

Vol. 3: Paul BÜTTNER Symphony No. 4 (1917-19) Berlin Radio SO/ Gerhard Pflüger (symphony) STERLING CDS-1048-2

Vol. 4 Heinrich SCHULZ-BEUTHEN (1838-1915) Symphony No. 5 etc Moscow SO/Adriano STERLING CDS-1049-2

Vol. 5 August KLUGHARDT (1847-1902) Cello Concerto in A minor etc STERLING CDS-1054-2 [55.15]

Vol. 6 Xaver SCHARWENKA (1850-1924) Symphony in C minor etc Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Fifield STERLING CDS-1060-2

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