Schubert
Symphony No.9 in C, D944 (Great)
Gál
Symphony No.2 in F
Northern Sinfonia
Thomas Zehetmair

Recorded in 2010 – 13 & 14 January (Schubert) and 29 & 30 September in Hall One, The Sage Gateshead, England
CD No: AVIE RECORDS
AV2225 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 39 minutes
Reviewed: August 2011
August 2011 ... Avie continues its outstanding work on behalf of the music of Hans Gál (1890-1987), coupling him for a second time with a symphony by his Viennese cousin Franz Schubert. Avie has been taking us on a Gál extravaganza for a while now (links below), and is not done yet. Still to come is his Fourth and final symphony, conducted by Kenneth Woods, who will go on to complete his own intégrale of Gál’s symphonies with the first two, which are now already recorded for us by Thomas Zehetmair, and he may well add numbers 3 and 4 to give us two Gál symphony cycles from the same company.
Leaving aside the logistics, this is all good news for any music-lover who likes to explore new or rare repertoire. Although Gál’s Second will be the main point of interest in this release, Zehetmair’s conducting of Schubert’s ‘Great C major’ Symphony is quite superb, as captivating as it is illuminating. His swift tempos are persuasive and detailing is immaculate. The Northern Sinfonia’s playing is superb and as tender, lyrical, bucolic and thrilling as required. In launching the work the two horns are mellifluous and there is a real sense of occasion that sustains the next 55 minutes. Textural clarity is all-important to Zehetmair – antiphonal violins dance and dialogue with delight – and he is not afraid to really open up the drama of the piece: the flare-up in the second movement is riveting and the impetuousness of the finale rousing. Zehetmair observes all repeats, which, aside from the scherzo, may seem an indulgence but proves anything but. This is a performance demanding to be heard.
Gál’s Second Symphony dates from the height of World War II, the years 1942 and 1943, when Gál was a refugee in Edinburgh (a city he would remain in for the rest of his long life). In four movements, two relatively short ones followed by two longer ones, the whole plays for (here) 43 and one-half minutes (the composer estimated 47), Gál 2 is an often-remarkable piece, potentially the pick of his quartet of symphonies (although we have yet to get to know the Fourth, which Woods records in December). A pastoral chorale opens the work, lonely yet comforted (comforting), personal yet universal, with quiet if ominous marching rhythms in lower strings and timpani, and a harp briefly tolls. The rather skittish second movement is upbeat, lively and inviting, but it is the expansive slow movement that goes straight to the one’s heart in its depth and beauty and which rises to intense anguish. As for the finale, of a similar length to the slow movement (13 minutes), its restless and anguished beginning comes directly from troubled times; a pensive slowing cues a flute and oboe that seem to coo from a woodland scene and suddenly all is sweetness and light, elegant and optimistic, yet earlier shadows remain apparent, and following some beatification the work’s eventual winding down is very effective.
Gál’s Second Symphony has not been heard since March 1950 when Rudolf Schwarz conducted the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, only the work’s third performance, so its recorded resurrection is welcome and justified. It will be interesting to see what Woods makes of it; maybe he will seek greater breadth in the slow movement and make more explicit its Brucknerian leanings. Meanwhile, courtesy of Zehetmair, both these symphonies are blessed with outstanding sound that is clear, spacious and ideally balanced from top to bottom and from front to back.

 

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