WORKS: Schubert: Symphony No. 6 in C; Gál: Symphony No. 1 in D
PERFORMER: Northern Sinfonia/Thomas Zehetmair
CATALOGUE NO: Avie AV2224
This is the first of two recordings featuring the Northern Sinfonia under Thomas Zehetmair which intriguingly pairs symphonies by Schubert with those of Hans Gál. The pretext for such a coupling lies in the fact that both composers shared a common Viennese heritage, albeit a century apart. But the composers are also connected by the fact that Gál’s First Symphony was submitted to an international competition, organised in 1928 by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and the Columbia Gramophone Company, to celebrate the centenary of Schubert’s death. It secured second prize.
While there is no evidence to suggest a direct Schubertian influence on Gál’s First Symphony, the work is undoubtedly attractive and distinguished in particular for its piquant and imaginative orchestration, beautifully captured in this warm yet clear recording. Conceived in the traditional four movements, the predominantly lyrical writing in the first and third provides contrast to the more dynamic and rhythmically exuberant Burlesque and Rondo Finale. The Symphony’s neo-classicism places it very much in the cultural milieu of 1920s though without the pungent dissonances and harsh textures one hears in the music of Stravinsky or Hindemith.
It would be difficult to imagine a more persuasive and committed performance than that given by these players. Likewise, the Schubert is delivered with dynamism, charm and finesse, the only caveat being the rather mannered approach to its Finale. Here Zehetmair imposes drastic fluctuations in tempo in response to different thematic ideas – a tactic that seems forced and unconvincing. Erik Levi