As much as I love the CPO label for the musical treasures they've given us (Atterberg, Wellesz, Conradi, Peterson-Berger, Weingartner, Goetz, Keiser, Ludolf Nielsen, Wetz, Rangstrom), and as much as I admire the principled, almost heroic life that this composer led (he openly defied the Nazis at risk of his own career, and then his life), I regretfully have to say I would not recommend this disc of Dutch composer Jan van Gilse.
I played the first symphony three times, and gave the second symphony four hearings. The liner notes tell us the first was an exam entry that won the competition and prize of a two-year fellowship. Van Gilse was 20 at the time, and his second symphony came three years later. While a later opera is mentioned, and a performance of his works was offered by the Concertgebouw (he turned it down in support of the Jewish musicians who were kicked out during the Nazi occupation), additional symphonies composed after these youthful pieces are not mentioned.
As much as I admire the man for his unbelievable courage, his music in these two works left me reaching for Bruckner's 2nd symphony as an antidote to the boredom. There is simply nothing memorable here. I played the symphonies again half expecting that I missed something, not being attentive enough. I would hear little snippets of themes (or not quite a full theme) that made me expectant of what would follow, but there would be either no development with an abrupt change of course, or what passes for development to a young & talented, but inexperienced composition student, which is what van Gilse was at the time. I was hoping he might sound like Ludolf Nielsen or Paul von Klenau, whose symphonies from that same 1900-1910 era are more romantic and lush and Brucknerian than these works.
Even though I did not enjoy this disc, I'm glad I gave it a try. And I'm still of the belief that CPO is the best classical label out there for unearthing these neglected composers, they have given me so many pleasant surprises over the last decade or so. If I don't always have my socks knocked off with a newly discovered work or composer, I can at least say that my curiosity was satisfied.