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Schubert: Symphony No. 6; Gal: Symphony No. 1 / Zehetmair, Northern Sinfonia

Gal / Schubert / Northern Sinfonia / Zehetmair
Release Date: 04/12/2011 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2224   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz SchubertHans Gál
Conductor:  Thomas Zehetmair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northern Sinfonia
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUBERT Symphony No. 6. GÁL Symphony No. 1 Thomas Zehetmair, cond; Northern Sinfonia AVIE 2224 (61:52)

Thomas Zehetmair recently extended his contract as conductor of England’s Northern Sinfonia. Based on the present CD, this is welcome news. This CD is titled Kindred Spirits , as it pairs works by two Viennese composers, Franz Schubert and Hans Gál. The Schubert Sixth provides Read more more insight into Zehetmair as an interpreter. Coming from the leader of the Zehetmair Quartet, Zehetmair’s Schubert exhibits a chamber-music ideal in the playing. It could be characterized as Wilhelm Furtwängler meets the period-performance movement. We have a wide dynamic range and prominent timpani, as in period performances, but Zehetmair also engages in considerable flexibility of tempo, à la Furtwängler. Customarily, one cites the influence of Rossini in this symphony, but Zethetmair’s reading also finds a precedent in Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, premiered four years before Schubert composed this work.

In the first movement, Zehetmair elicits pointed wind playing in the exposition. Tempos in this movement are fairly conventional. There are sharp accents in the strings, and the chattering woodwinds are very Rossinian. The Andante begins with gentle, lyrical phrasing in the A section. The tempo picks up in the B section, with aggressive playing from the brass and timpani providing contrast. The scherzo here has the rhythmic verve of the second movement of Beethoven’s Eighth. The playing is especially crisp. The trio sounds bucolic, with the wind ensemble resembling a country band. The last movement offers Zehetmair’s most extreme manipulation of tempos. It reminds me of a performance I heard by Sir Colin Davis and the New York Philharmonic in 1993; the movement sounds more like a ballet from Rosamunde than a Rossini overture. The music alternates between exciting tuttis and ländler-like episodes. All in all, Zehetmair gives us a very stimulating Schubert Sixth. The performances by Sir Thomas Beecham and Michael Halász may be easier to live with, but I would not want to be without Zehetmair’s reading.

This is the premiere recording of Hans Gál’s First Symphony. It seems to receive a fine performance. Gál wrote the work in 1927, when he was 37. He already had composed two discarded symphonies, so this was his first symphony to be published. At this time, Gál was a frequently performed composer in the German-speaking world, championed by, among others, George Szell. Gál being born Jewish, Hitler banned his works. Gál emigrated to the U.K., where he remained for the rest of his 97 years. The rise of the atonal avant-garde after World War II pushed his music further into obscurity.

Gál’s First Symphony definitely is worthy of revival. In its overall mood and dark coloration, it evokes much the same world as Bohuslav Martin??s symphonies, although with more clear-cut thematic material than from the Czech master. The first movement offers a kaleidoscope of moods, deftly orchestrated. This movement resembles a miniature symphonic poem, with hints of Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande . The second movement, a burlesque, is like a danse macabre with lyrical interludes. The next movement, an elegy, contains intimate, confiding solos for the first chairs, especially the violin. Here the music possesses a gossamer quality. The concluding rondo reminds me of Carl Nielsen in its angularity and vigor. My overall impression is that Gál’s First Symphony is an appealing and interesting score, though not a masterpiece. I think anyone with an interest in European music between the World Wars will want to hear it. The sound engineering in both works is clear and full, with a slightly opaque resonance. Kudos are owed to Thomas Zehetmair, and may his tenure with the Northern Sinfonia bring us more of such engaging fare.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 6 in C major, D 589 "Little C Major" by Franz Schubert
Conductor:  Thomas Zehetmair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northern Sinfonia
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1818; Vienna, Austria 
Symphony no 1 in D major by Hans Gál
Conductor:  Thomas Zehetmair
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Northern Sinfonia
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1927 

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