Symphony no.3 in A major/minor, op.62 (1951-2) [34:39]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony no.3 in E flat, op.97 (1850) [31:37]
Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods
rec. Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, 6-7 December 2010. DDD
AVIE AV2230 [66:16]
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
Gál's symphonic music is superbly lyrical and energetic.