Avie’s devotion to the music of Hans Gál continues with this
release of his Second Symphony. As before, in the case of the
First Symphony, it’s coupled on a 2 CD set with a work of Schubert’s.
The earlier disc presented the Sixth Symphony, but in this latest
disc we have The Great. It’s part of a ‘Kindred Spirits’
agenda, ‘two ends of a great tradition’ as it’s called on the
jewel case. I’m sure there are arguments for and against this,
and we can all think what they might be. Why not just a single
disc devoted to Gal, symphony by symphony? After all Avie presented
a single disc of the Violin Sonatas (AV2182) and in the case
of the solo piano music, they devoted a three CD set to it (AV2064).
There was no ‘dilution’ by including other composers. A counter-argument
would surely run like this: the symphonic tradition of which
Gál was part was rooted in Schubert and the lineage is enhanced
through the conjunction. In any case I’m not yet aware that
Zehetmair intends a complete cycle of Gál’s symphonies. To put
it simply, if you want this performance of the symphony, you
must necessarily acquire a good performance of The Great.
The First Symphony had been written in Vienna in 1927, the Second
in Edinburgh between 1942 and 1943. It was first performed in
Wiesbaden in October 1948, and then in Dessau in January 1949.
Its British premiere came in March 1950, care of the Bournemouth
Symphony and Rudolf Schwarz, Gál’s former pupil from Vienna.
It seems never to have been performed again until this recording.
It’s a perfectly structured work, excellently proportioned in
all respects – classically so, if you like. In a post-war letter
to a friend he remarked that it lasts 47 minutes, though in
Zehetmair’s performances it is somewhat fleeter, clocking in
at over 43. Despite its wartime composition and the torrid circumstances
of the composer’s life at the time – the deaths of his son,
sister, and aunt – he maintained that the Symphony was a work
of consolation, and not a funereal one. That is borne out by
this performance. The second movement even has some puckish
moments which, in the trio section extend so far as to include
some pastoral ones, wind-draped and full of repose: hints, too,
perhaps of Til Eulenspiegel. The meditative slow movement
rises and crests with the promise of hope; wind solos are gentle
and consoling, the brass hints, very subtly, at Bruckner. The
ingenious finale starts as a kind of passacaglia but develops
a series of diverting episodes, many very charming, embracing
a rich solo violin passage. Slowly the music winds down to a
beneficent conclusion. There’s no room here for a blaze of spurious
The Schubert receives a well drilled and direct reading. Clarity
is a watchword and a general avoidance of expressive extremes.
It’s well-paced, and full of probity and warm phrasing. Balances,
too, are secure. It doesn’t chart the kind of emotive course
established by Furtwängler, say, to take one example of a conductor
who harnessed its rhetoric to an often dramatic sense of engagement.
Nevertheless it’s a precision-conscious, very worthwhile performance.
Necessarily, though, the Gál symphony is the primary point of
interest. Excellent annotations and a fine, vivid recorded quality
enhance the production no end.