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Leopold van der PALS (1884-1966)
Symphony No. 1 (1909) [37:01]
Fruhling, Herbst op. 14 (1911) [19:29]
Wieland der Schmied op. 23 (1912) [15:38]
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Johannes Goritzki
rec. Konserthuset Helsingborg, Sweden, 2017
CPO 555 117-2 [72:10]

Leopold van der Pals gives the impression of being at ease in moneyed and aristocratic circles. Born in St. Petersburg of a Dutch father and a Danish mother, his family's wealth meant that he had the luxury of studying with Glière in Berlin in 1907. This was just at the time when Glière was completing his loquacious Second Symphony. This work may have been the model for the van der Pals' Symphony no. 1 which was premiered by the Berlin Philharmonic. As with so many in the artistic community van der Pals was gripped by ideas of the Theosophical movement, by Madame Blavatsky and the movement's German apostle, Rudolf Steiner. The emphasis that such ideas was given for many decades has recently been underscored among the visual artists with a light but informing hand by Waldemar Januszczak in his BBC trilogy of programmes on America's visual arts (Big Sky, Big Dreams, Big Art).

The Symphony - written in a log cabin on the family's Finnish estate in 1907 - is no rabble-rouser. Its beginning lights the way: slow and thoughtful and with an unfolding romance. This is rolling and atmospheric; not in the least revolutionary. There is a flicker of heavy gripping brass at 1:19 and at 7:40 where van der Pals' modest theme blooms wonderfully. The second and shortest movement has some playful woodwind rather like D'Indy's Second Symphony, but one might be forgiven for thinking that this was not a mood he was apt to; he was no Glazunov and lacked a gift for scherzos. Then comes a silvery-toned slow movement - brooding but illustrative of a mind that is restful not restive. This has more in common with Glazunov's least demonstrative Seventh Symphony or with Josef Suk's Summer or Ripening. The finale is a rough and tramping piece which displays a tapestry richness rather like Tchaikovsky 5. Once again there's some woodwind jollity at 2:54 and the end comes at 9:01, suffused in grandeur. Overall this is not an utterly compelling piece and stands comparison with later lanky and rambling symphonies: Respighi and Paderewski mixed with a little of the Lyapunov 2 and Balakirev 2. It favours the reflective rather than the emotionally turbulent.

Composed as companions, the overture-size seasonal Fruhling and Herbst date from 1911. Neither is tempestuous. Van der Pals is drawn into the poetic-reflective again. Frühling might have been an excuse for a rush of blood and joy but not in these hands. Instead we get a blooming Delian score with birdsong trilling away in groves lit by shafts of sunlight. There are moments of majesty (2:40, 4:04) but these square more comfortably with a musing thoughtful Cyril Scott or Dawn on the Moskva by Mussorgsky than with the later Frank Bridge (Enter Spring or Song of My Heart). Herbst is once again in abstracted dream mode. There is no Glazunov-style romping auburn flurry of leaves. Wieland der Schmied is the latest piece. The dominance goes to gloomy and ramblingly lugubrious. Although there are moments where the progress of the score picks up momentum, these are overshadowed by van der Pals' philosophical sunset in slow motion. It's all wonderfully lit, including a delicious brief passage for solo violin and a quiet tinkling towards end which could be the distant sound of Wieland's hammer and anvil. This is very much an echo of the painting Wanderer above the Sea of Fog in the 1818 oil painting by Caspar David Friedrich recently used by Stewart Lee in his stand-up routine Content Provider. If you hanker after a more dramatic take on the Scandinavian-Teutonic Wieland then try Siegmund von Hausegger's tone poem of the same name.

Credit to CPO and its conductor, orchestra and recording team as well as their invaluable notes for bringing us this unknown music, affectionately sculpted and shaped. Van der Pals is an exponent of late-romanticism with dreaminess in the vanguard, not thunder and lightning.

Rob Barnett


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