Schubert: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Also, Gal: Symphony No. 1. Thomas Zehetmair, Northern Sinfonia. Avie AV2224.

In one of those cryptic designations that record companies like to use, Avie gives this album the secondary title "Kindred Spirits." One would assume, then, that composers Franz Schubert and Hans Gal had much in common, yet beyond their both being Viennese, one would hardly notice the connections.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote his Symphony No. 6 in C major, D589, in 1818, and people today call it the "Little C Major" to differentiate it from No. 9, the "Great C Major." Schubert finished No. 6 just after his twenty-first birthday, so it's a youthful work from a man who died young; in that regard, I suppose all of Schubert's work is "young." Certainly, much of it carries a pleasant, youthful spirit.

The opening Adagio-Allegro has a typical Schubertian charm to it, light and refreshing, with a flourish at the beginning and end. Maestro Thomas Zehetmair lets most of it breathe with fairly broad tempos. It perhaps loses a little zest in the process but remains largely delightful.

Then Zehetmair takes the Andante at a rather sprightly pace, investing it with more vivacity than I would have thought, which, if anything, makes for a smooth transition into the little Scherzo that follows it. This third movement is reminiscent of parts of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, and it, too, maintains the color and character of the movement that succeeds it, a rondo finale. Zehetmair uses it to advantage to end the piece in cheery style.

If there is any drawback to the performance, it's not so much in what Zehetmair does as it is what a major rival, Sir Thomas Beecham, did in his old 1955 stereo recording (EMI). Beecham was consistently lighter, more genial, and more magical. What's more, his EMI disc provides two more Schubert symphonies, Nos. 3 and 5.  So, for Zehetmair's disc, it is probably the coupling that matters most.

That coupling is the Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 30, by Hans Gal (1890-1987). Written in 1927, the Gal symphony contains a steady stream of long, flowing melodic ideas, the harmonies sometimes running rampant, willy-nilly. Yet there is always a twentieth-century sensibility about it, a greater seriousness of tone than almost anything found in Schubert.  Indeed, Zehetmair seems even to play up the fact that the Vienna of Gal's youth, indeed the Vienna of Schubert, was a thing of the past, ravaged by World War I and about to experience further decline in World War II. The third movement Elegie speaks most eloquently for the work:  dark, slightly melancholy, yet resourceful and hopeful as well. Gal draws the symphony to a close with a vaguely militaristic finale, like Schubert's in rondo form. Zehetmair seems to relish this music and presents it in fine, sympathetic fashion.

Avie recorded the performances in November of 2009 at Hall One of the Sage Gateshead, England. The sound is very dynamic, with good impact and a reasonably wide frequency response. Although the textures are perhaps a trifle heavy for the nature of the Schubert music, they work well in the more weighty Gal symphony, and in any case it is of minor concern. The sound has good body, warmth, and strength, which is what matters most.

JJP

1 comment:

  1. Greetings! I present to you my music blog, dedicated to a wonderful choir. Those days there is a new cd-release, perhaps you have interest. Thanks a lot and enjoy the music, one of the best pleasures of the world!

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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