Jan van Gilse’s Ambitious Third Symphony

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

After the rather conservative first two symphonies, Jan van Gilse’s Third Symphony comes as a refreshing surprise. Composed in the early years of the 20th century (1907), the subtitle “Elevation” presumably refers to the texts from the Song of Songs that feature in the third and fifth movements, sung by a solo soprano. Aside from the expanded number of movements, their arrangement is also highly unconventional: slow, fast, slow, scherzo, finale. The first movement is dark and sad, but more than merely preludial. The second is a passionate allegro with a hint of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration in it, while the third is a consoling and yes, “elevated” song.

In the fourth movement Gilse offers an ebullient waltz, similar in a way to the scherzo of Mahler’s Fifth. The finale contains the most extended vocal setting, and at 20 minutes I’m not sure that Gilse sustains the music’s greater length with complete success; but the Brucknerian coda is aptly glowing and ecstatic. The music is more original in terms of its structure and overall concept, perhaps, than in the cut of its actual ideas, but taken on its own this is an impressive and ambitious piece for a composer still in his mid 20s.

David Porcelijn turns in a typically committed and convincing performance with The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, soprano Aile Asszonyi has one of those voices that wobbles ferociously above mezzo forte, though she sings sensitively enough at softer dynamic levels. And let’s face it: what truly great singer is going to bother to learn a totally unknown work for the single recorded performance it’s ever likely to receive (unless lightning strikes and Gilse becomes a household name)? In other words, beggars can’t be choosers, and the music is certainly worth hearing even with a few minor reservations. The engineering is warmly natural.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: No reference recording

  • CPO - 777 518-2
  • CD

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