ALBUM TITLE: Schumann • Gál
WORKS: Schumann: Symphony No. 1; Gál: Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods
CATALOGUE NO: AV2233
You wait 80-odd years for a recording of Hans Gál’s Symphony No. 1, and then Avie release two discs of the work within three years. Gál, who fled Germany in the 1930s and died in Edinburgh in 1987, is being championed by the label, worthily so. Kenneth Woods’s performance with his Orchestra of the Swan completes the first complete cycle of Gál’s four Symphonies, and he makes this sweeping 1927 score sound a touch more febrile than does Thomas Zehetmair with the Northern Sinfonia.
It’s an intriguing symphony, late Romantic in style, balanced precariously on the cliff-edge of expressionism. Touches of irony call earlyish Shostakovich to mind, but Gál’s music is less pointed, and gloriously eclectic. The second movement, Burleske, is a poised, narky little scherzo that swings through an emollient trio, a rousing stomp and a lyrical envoi, before disappearing in a puff of air; by contrast, the third movement, Elegie, weaves together beautifully played solos culminating in a transcendent coda in which this orchestra seems to breathe together.
Woods’s pairing of Gál’s Symphonies with Schumann’s isn’t obvious, but it works; these two First Symphonies throw each other into relief. For those who don’t yet have a modern, streamlined performance of Schumann’s First on disc, this will do nicely: under Woods the work emerges buoyant and pacy. Yet some of the playing could be a little more polished, and while the performance stands up well within an impressive run of recent recordings – David Zinman, Thomas Dausgaard, Paavo Järvi, Heinz Holliger – it doesn’t displace them.