Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2.
Symphony No. 4
Kenneth Woods, cond; O of the Swan
AVIE 2232 (73:11)
Hans Gál’s Second Symphony is a formidable work in the romantic tradition. When his First Symphony, a compact and classical piece, was premiered in 1927, it was taken up quickly, particularly in the German-speaking countries. By the time Gál completed the Second in the 1940s, he was an exile from Hitler and had recently
experienced four deaths in his family, three of them suicides—two to avoid transportation to Auschwitz. While the seeds of Gál’s symphonic language are already evident in the First, the Second shows him reaching further into the romantic ethos to come to terms with what his life had become. The work was given just a handful of performances in Gál’s lifetime, the last in 1951. It only was revived in recent years by Thomas Zehetmair and Kenneth Woods.
The Second opens with music of Delius-like gentleness and harmonic daring. Gál engages here in very sophisticated tone painting. The whole first movement is music that is questioning rather than declarative. The next movement functions as a scherzo. I am tempted to view it as a self-portrait of the composer, in its intelligence and good humor. Its harmony has echoes of Max Reger. The movement’s calm middle section could depict Gál as the sensible and devoted teacher he was. The third movement, an
, is the focal point of the Symphony. It is music about the contemplation of loss, both personal and cultural. Here Gál employs the traditional language of romanticism to create music of extreme honesty. The movement possesses several episodes of quiet, uneasy, painful reverie. These are interrupted briefly by an orchestral scream, not unlike the one in the opening movement of Mahler’s Tenth. In the final movement, Gál attempts to wrestle with the contradictions of the previous three. Much of the woodwind writing in it resembles that in Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, not inconsequentially known as “The Inextinguishable.” To conclude the Symphony, Gál reintroduces the sense of reverie from the
. The work ends quietly, with a feeling that could be either acceptance or resignation. I have not heard Zehetmair’s recording of the Symphony, but Kenneth Woods’s performance is empathetic and committed.
Schumann’s Fourth Symphony is a fine discmate for the Gál. Both composers employ an innovative approach to symphonic form, and they each express themselves emotionally in many shades of gray. Woods’s Fourth is excellent, vital, and striking. The Symphony’s introduction feels like a meditation on the many worlds of the cosmos. The first movement’s main section resembles the wanderings of the poetic soul. Woods is generous with repeats. The Romance is an interlude in the poet’s progress, its B section depicting a tender domestic scene. Woods’s Scherzo is alternately turbulent and tranquil, much like Schumann’s own character. The introduction to the last movement possesses commanding breadth. Woods allows the main section of the movement to breathe and build up naturally. The coda gives off virile excitement. My favorite Schumann Fourth is by Florian Merz and the Klassische Philharmonie Düsseldorf, a rendition on modern instruments informed by period performance practice. Woods’s version is as good as any traditional account I know of. Simon Fox-Gál has provided excellent sound engineering throughout this CD. I think it is wonderful that there is a resurgence of interest in Hans Gál’s music. Woods’s album is a valuable addition to our understanding of the 20th-century symphony.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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