Gal: Symphony No. 1 (CD review)
With this disc Maestro Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan conclude their survey of the four symphonies by Viennese teacher, pianist, and composer Hans Gal (1890-1987). What has been a little unclear is why Avie coupled each of the Gal symphonies with one by German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856). The connections continue to be rather nebulous to me, although a booklet note explains that it has something to do with people often misunderstanding both Gal and Schumann and with both of their "first" symphonies not actually being the composers' first symphonic works. And, of course, both composers were born in the same century and wrote four symphonies. OK. The main thing is that Woods and his players again do up the symphonies nicely, which is all most of us really care about.
Although much of what preoccupied Gal in his lifetime was opera, he produced his Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 30 in 1927, his publisher suggesting to him that it was really a sinfonietta and he should title it so. Gal resisted and submitted the work to a music competition, winning second prize. Thereafter, it enjoyed a short-lived fame but since 1933 has received only three public performances.
Gal's First Symphony is relatively brief, about thirty minutes, and more outgoing than the other symphonies I've heard from him. Maestro Woods takes advantage of these characteristics to provide a lively and colorful rendering of things. The symphony is clearly Romantic in nature yet with strong hints of the coming modernism of the twentieth century. Woods emphasizes the melodic lines, keeps the Burleske playful, draws out a lovely Elegie, and ends with a rousing account of the Rondo finale. Although I had never heard the work before now, I would find it hard to imagine anyone handling it any better than Woods, nor any orchestra playing it with more accuracy and enthusiasm.
Schumann wrote his Symphony No. 1 in B flat, Op. 38 "Spring" in 1841, soon after he married Clara Wieck. Clara claimed her husband called it the "Spring Symphony" because of the "Spring" poems of Adolph Boettger; Robert claimed he so named it because of his "spring of love." Obviously, the symphony is therefore romantic in every sense. He tinkered with it until its publication in final form in 1853, and listeners have loved it ever since.
Regarding the Schumann piece, we are in another symphonic world altogether. It really seems a little unfair to Gal to have the two works side by side. Not that the Gal symphony fares all that poorly by itself; its pastoral effects, especially, are quite a charming reflection of early twentieth-century music. But Schumann wrote a masterpiece for the ages, which Woods offers up in a spirited if rather quickly paced interpretation. The reading loses a little something in the way of Schumann's singing melodies and poetic grace, replaced by a more energetic swagger; less of a dance than a sprint. The trade-off isn't all that bad, mind you, just different. Nevertheless, Woods's rendition doesn't displace my favorite recordings of Schumann's First Symphony from Wolfgang Sawallisch (EMI), Otto Klemperer (EMI), Roy Goodman (RCA), and others, which seem to me to combine the best of both vitality and lyricism in their versions.
Simon Fox-Gal (the grandson of composer Hans Gal) produced, engineered, and edited the recording, made at Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon in December 2013. The sound he obtained shows good depth and clarity. The orchestra appears to be somewhat small, about thirty or so players if we can believe the photograph of them in the accompanying booklet, and as a small ensemble they sound a bit more transparent than a full orchestra might sound. The overall sonic presentation seems a tad forward to me, while revealing good detail. It's also a touch strident in the upper frequencies during loudest passages, but not enough to concern most listeners. With its wide stereo presentation, fairly good dynamics, transient response, and impact, the audio comes off pretty well.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.