Hans Gál's 'old-fashioned' music was effectively
done down for decades by the post-war illuminati who favoured
a strict modernism. The explosion in modern recordings - coupled
ironically with the cultural denigration of art music in the
mass media - has shown that countless composers, including Gál,
ignored what academics were insisting. They carried on writing
'anachronistic' symphonies, string quartets, piano
sonatas and so on in the great tradition that stretches back
into the 18th century.
With this release Kenneth Woods and the Stratford-Upon-Avon-based
Orchestra of the Swan embark on their four-disc cycle of Austrian
Gál's complete Symphonies. Interestingly each issue is
coupled with one of Schumann's.
Somewhat surprisingly, Avie released only last year a recording
of Gál's First Symphony, with the Second to follow soon
afterwards - conducted not by Woods, but by Thomas Zehetmair,
leading the Northern Sinfonia, pairing Gál with Schubert. At
the time of writing (summer 2012) Woods's Second Gál
has already been released by Avie. Thirty-five-plus years after
Gál finished the Fourth, well into his eighties, are two of
his Symphony cycles now appearing like proverbial buses - on
the same label even? The Hans
Gál Society will be pleased. The composer's grandson,
Simon Fox-Gál, must also be pleased, having produced and engineered
both the Woods and the Zehetmair recordings.
Most importantly the music-lover will be happy: Gál's
symphonic music is superbly lyrical and energetic. It’s Hartmann
than Henze, but also more Huber or Hindemith than Hartmann.
The fragrantly delicate, balmy opening bars of Gál's
Third Symphony betoken a conservative but individual voice,
albeit there are occasional hints of Mahler, Bruckner and Brahms
in the long opening movement. In the finale, the sensuousness
of the music is more redolent in places of Strauss and even
Bax. The Third is clearly vieux jeu and staunchly Germanic,
its three-movement form aside. It throws up no real surprises,
or even dissonance, and plumbs no great depths of emotion. For
all that, it is impeccably elegant, chastely orchestrated and
melodious almost to a fault. Many similar symphonies lie neglected
or undiscovered on library shelves across Europe, but that is
no reason not to rejoice in Woods's reanimation of this
particular specimen.It’s not an epoch-making masterpiece, but
a very pleasant work that deserves to be heard and is very likely
to please even those who buy this disc for the Schumann.
It is probably high time that the nickname 'Rhenish'
was detached once and for all from Schumann's Symphony
in E flat. Not only did he not want any such programmatic label
associated with his work, but 'Rhenish' is an
obsolescent word at best in English, if it was ever used at
all outside wine-quaffing circles! Avie, thankfully, do not
use it in the track-listing, and in his notes Woods mentions
it in passing once and then never again.
Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan are having no truck with
the faintly ludicrous assertion that Schumann was an awkward
or even incompetent orchestrator. Woods lets it be known, with
this expertly delineated, clarified account that any claimed
textural 'thickness' is the fault of the conductor,
not the composer. There is some particularly infectious horn
playing to note, reminding the listener of Schumann's
debt to Mendelssohn and Schubert.
Sound quality is good, if not precisely all that one would wish
for. There is a certain lack of definition, especially noticeable
in the strings, which gives a slightly 'muddy'
effect. The recordings have also been made at a substantially
lower volume than normal, which will almost certainly necessitate
manual adjustment during listening.
The English-French-German booklet notes are by Woods himself,
and provide a detailed background and description of the music
in communicative language. Woods perhaps exaggerates the drama
and originality of Gál's Symphony, but it is
high time the composer had such a knowledgeable, proactive champion
for his orchestral music.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
see also review
by Rob Barnett
see also Hans
GÁL (1890-1987) Symphony no.4 (Sinfonia
concertante) op.105 (1974) [36:37] Robert
SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Symphony no.2 in C op.61
Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods rec. 2011,
AVIE AV2231 [73:09]