Hans Gál & Schumann – Symphonies No.1 [Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods; Avie]

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.1 in D, Op.30
Symphony No.1 in B flat, Op.38 (Spring)

Orchestra of the Swan
Kenneth Woods

Recorded 2 & 3 December 2013 in Civic Hall, Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: April 2014
Duration: 61 minutes



The Orchestra of the Swan and Kenneth Woods here complete their survey of the Symphonies of Hans Gál and Robert Schumann. What a good idea to pair the two, Gál (1890-1987) a devotee of Schumann’s music (and an editor of Brahms’s). For the record, or not in fact, Woods has no plans to record Schumann 4 in its original guise, but does have designs on a disc to include the Overture, Scherzo and Finale and the Konzertstück for Four Horns.

Rather than going straight to the Gál (whose First Symphony has already been recorded by Avie, under Thomas Zehetmair), it was Schumann’s ‘Spring’ Symphony that proved to be magnetic, such an alluring work and, like all great music, open to any number of interpretations. Woods is brisk and, following a stirring opening fanfare, the flowers blossom to welcome the return of the vernal season. In his advancement, Woods is driving a Ferrari on an open road, the wind in his hair, the Swan players estimable in their unanimous response, but, in the loudest fortissimos, I find the recording biased to the treble (the trumpets highlighted) and with not enough ‘down below’. Nevertheless, the performance is exhilarating if, in the first movement, not especially joyous (try Heinz Holliger for that quality, link below), although the slow movement is most eloquently turned with the strings nicely ‘purple’ in their colouring. The scherzo is mobile and crisply detailed, the two trios engagingly fancy-free. With the finale (the booklet erroneously replacing Allegro with Andante for the tempo indication), Woods has certainly noted Schumann’s animato request in his preparation, but the reproduction detracts from a warming experience, but at least a delightful contemplation of nature occurs from 4’40, where horns intone gravely beautiful timbres and a flute chirrups a birdsong cadenza … then we’re off again. If it’s all a bit too athletic, then at least Woods has something left with which to accelerate into the coda, here wide-eyed and even maniacal, but sorry to report that I was left unmoved, not helped by the too-bright sound.

As for the Gál, his compact, four-movement debut Symphony from 1927, or at least the first such work that he let out of his workshop, it’s a restless piece of Classical design, economically if colourfully scored, energetic and reflective, the first movement suggesting that Stravinsky’s rhythms have met (Richard) Strauss’s lyricism, and with a dramatic use of contrasts and characterisation that keeps the listener intrigued. The ‘Burleske’ second-movement is witty, charming and vivid, the succeeding ‘Elegie’ rather bittersweet, and the finale notably Gallic (Poulencian) in its insouciance whether striding forth as a comic turn or taking a moment to consider something intimate.

Regrettably, reservations about the treble-tilted recording remain, but there are none concerning the performance, Woods and the Swan musicians totally at-one with the music, so too Zehetmair and his Northern Sinfonia … so it’s win-win for Gál, Avie and us.

And Gál-enthusiasm doesn’t stop here, for more chamber music is mooted for release on Avie, and possibly too his second opera, Die heilige Ente (The Sacred Duck), its 1923 premiere being conducted by George Szell.

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