Gal: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Symphony No. 4. Kenneth Woods, Orchestra of the Swan. Avie AV2232.

For a lot of potential buyers, it may be bad enough that they have trouble recognizing the name of Viennese teacher, pianist, and composer Hans Gal (1890-1987), to say nothing of trying to figure out why the album under review couples Gal's Second Symphony with the Fourth Symphony of German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Well, actually, the connection is somewhat nebulous but has something to do with people often "misunderstanding" both Gal and Schumann and with Gal having once described the Schumann Fourth as the composer's "most ingenious experiment in form." Fair enough, I suppose, if stretching a point. The main thing is that Maestro Kenneth Woods and his Orchestra of the Swan play both symphonies exceedingly well, which is all we really want.

Gal wrote his Symphony No. 2 in F, Op. 53 in 1943, at a time when the world was in the throes of war and Gal himself was dealing with personal tragedy, the suicide of his eighteen-year-old son. Therefore, the music reflects some of that strife; yet it is mostly serene, contemplative, comforting, lyrical, and occasionally lighthearted.

Maestro Woods and his team play up the more tranquil sections deftly, like the long, slow introduction and the elegiac Adagio. Still, Woods finds himself at home in the sprightly, energetic moods of the second-movement scherzo as well, catching its bouncing rhythms in easy fashion.

The composer said he considered the symphony’s big, central Adagio “more consolation than funeral music,” even though it does have a very solemn tone. Nevertheless, Woods manages to make it quite affecting, quite beautiful, quite graceful; at least until the midway point when the high violins disrupt the tranquility of the setting. This is probably as close as we get in the music to Gal’s private adversities, but Woods does not overdramatize or over sentimentalize it. By the time the finale draws to a close, we recognize, at least in hands of Woods, a memorable and perhaps unfairly underappreciated work.

With Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120, from 1841, we’re on more-familiar ground. Schumann actually wrote it as his second symphony, so it’s still a relatively youthful work, if revolutionary for its time. The interrelated themes and movements make it flow almost as though it were a long, single piece, and Woods does his best to help us hear the interconnected course of the music in this 1852 revised version. While the music remains stormy, tempestuous, rocky, and Romantic, of course, one does notice the similarities in mood and subject matter to Gal’s piece, so I guess the coupling works in its oddball way after all.

Avie recorded the album in December of 2011 at Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The sound they obtained is nicely dimensional, with both depth and width in the orchestral spread. Although the midrange is not exactly crystalline, it sounds well detailed, smooth, clean, and natural. The hall throws a pleasingly warm resonance over the proceedings, making the music easy on the ear without in any way clouding its definition. 

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa