I sought out this disc after falling in love with vol. 2 of this Orchestra of the Swan/Kenneth Woods/Avie Records exploration of the symphonies of Hans Gal and Robert Schumann. I was certainly not disappointed.
Gal's Third Symphony is a more overtly "symphonic work" than his Fourth (which the composer called a Sinfonia Concertante and features a solo quartet throughout)- although there are virtuoso turns for the Swan's expert concertmaster, principal oboist and clarinetist, it's a true orchestral piece. Although Gal's music always seems to maintain a sense of chamber music clarity, the Third has true symphonic sweep. It's a three movement work, bound together by an arresting motto theme. I can't imagine you'll find a more charming and melodious new symphonic movement than the central intermezzo, and the first movement is one of Gal's most dramatic and stormy creations I've come across.
As with vol. 2, the Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan and conductor Kenneth Woods give us a performance of Schumanns symphony (his Third, sometimes called the "Rhenish," although I believe Schumann did not endorse the nickname) as virtuosic, vibrant and exciting as any in the catalogue. Using the same sized string section which Schumann worked with in Leipzig and Dusseldorf, and with the Swan's antiphonally seated violins adding an extra element of clarity and transparency, Schumann emerges as one of the most original accomplished orchestrators of the 19th. c. With so much to admire, it's hard pick out moments or players for special praise, but the horns are spectacular throughout, and the vertiginous trombone writing in the fourth movement has probably never been played more fluidly. The second movement is a joy, the fourth really harrowing and the finale brims with life. Tempi seem spot on, but flexible. This is shaping up to be a Schumann cycle for the ages.
The pairing works brilliantly- both works set aside traditional four movement form and settle on symmetrical designs with a touching intermezzo at their center. The two pieces truly illuminate each other. The booklet notes also include some of Gal's comments on the Schumann from his book on Schumann's orchestral music.
Avie's production values are absolutely top notch. Great sound, beautiful design, and informative notes by the conductor, translated into French and German.