Franz Schubert & Hans Gál – Kindred Spirits 1 [Northern Sinfonia/Zehetmair; Avie]

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.6 in C, D589
Symphony No.1 in D

Northern Sinfonia
Thomas Zehetmair

Recorded 18 & 19 November 2009 (Schubert) and 27 & 28 September 2010 in Hall One, The Sage Gateshead, England

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2011
Duration: 62 minutes



April 2011 … Avie is continuing its outstanding work on behalf of the music of Hans Gál (1890-1987), sharing him on this issue with a symphony by his Viennese cousin Schubert, and as will happen again in a forthcoming Thomas Zehetmair “Kindred Spirits” release that will couple Schubert’s ‘Great C major’ Symphony with Gál’s Second; and then Kenneth Woods will conduct Gál 3, with Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony, to herald Orchestra of the Swan’s Gál and Schumann intégrale.

This first offering from the Northern Sinfonia offers the many pleasures of Schubert’s Sixth Symphony and the refreshing discovery that is Gál 1. The slow introduction of the Schubert tramps nicely and the Allegro is affectionate, springy and playful, although the pent-up release of energy just before the final bars seems out of place; other conductors have made it belong as well as being contrasting (Karl Münchinger and the Vienna Philharmonic my yardstick). The Andante second movement is sweetly elegant and romantically inclined, its diversions marked out by Zehetmair; a joyful performance that makes you smile, as does the ebullient scherzo, exhilarating here, the strange trio kept moving, with the return of the scherzo even faster than before, it seems! So far, so good, but the finale … oh dear! Deftly played as it is, Zehetmair’s interventionist tendencies swamp this enjoyable romp of a movement. The early bars have a few nudges and speed fluctuations, and sometimes seem a bit precious … but worse is to come. This is straightforward music, nodding to Rossini (all the rage in Vienna at the time, 1818), but Zehetmair goes on to disrupt it with wild tempo fluctuations, contrived hesitations and effete emphases, Interesting (sort of), if rarely convincing, and often irritating and a decided let-down after the excellence of the preceding movements – this is love or hate territory – and the trumpets take too long to break through in the closing bars.

Good post-production puts a decent silence before the first recording of Hans Gál Symphony (1927) emerges, which came second (behind Franz Schmidt’s Third) in the Austrian section of a competition to mark the centenary of Schubert’s death. The overall winner (in 1928) was the Sixth Symphony of Kurt Waterberg. Gál’s debut symphony, although not difficult to audition, is very personal and requires a few listens to get under its skin, and then it is very rewarding. Deeply beautiful in its opening the first movement is also neo-classically pointed, bright and buzzy in a Poulencian way – yet all is encompassed with a single tempo marking of Moderato. There follows gawky, tongue-in-cheek and frivolous invention, the third-placed slow movement, ‘Elegy’ carrying the greatest emotional weight, with echoes of Mahler 10 and, indeed, Franz Schmidt; Gál breathed the same musical air as these composers, but he was also his own man.

Whatever (considerable) reservations there may be over Zehetmair’s handling of the finale of the Schubert, the Gál is a super piece, touching nerves at times and great fun at others, and played here with panache and sensitivity. (It will be interesting to find out what Kenneth Woods makes of this work, but we shall have to wait a while.) Both symphonies are excellently recorded and Avie’s presentation is similarly high-end.

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