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Robert Hermann: Symphonies Nos 1 And 2
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Top Customer Reviews
With their use of see-sawing, ostinato-like rhythmic patterns and thematic figures, their woodwind trills and horn-calls, both works evince a bucolic atmosphere but the sombre hue of much of the string writing and the expressive seriousness of Hermann's contrapuntal textures results in a soundscape that is by no means a simplistic or idealistic Arcadian vision. Indeed, the lengthy central movement of the first symphony opens and closes with eloquently-expressed music of tragic import; the corresponding movement in the second symphony doesn't attempt to plumb quite such emotional depths but Hermann's polyphonic development of his material still lends it a striking seriousness of utterance, one intimated by its sombre opening bars.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
That’s not to say that this release is going to change music history or that these two symphonies quite manage qualify as timeless masterpieces. Indeed, these sunny, easy and generally cheerful works do not appear to have any such pretentions. But they are, indeed, not quite like anything you have heard before. The sound world actually reminded me more than anything of the sound world of Darius Milhaud’s symphonies (no less) – no, they aren’t exactly peppered with bitonality (there are traces, though), but they have, if nothing else, the same kind of occasionally slightly raucous pastoral character: “Somewhere between Raff’s and Milhaud’s symphonies” is probably the closest I can come to describing the gestalt impression of the music, which is also infused with at least traces of Swiss folk music.
The first symphony (from 1895) is what one would associate with the epithet “pastoral symphony”. It flows easily like a summer river, never too slowly but always warmly atmospheric: grazing sheep, blue sky, green fields and birdsong. The subtle shift in moods between the movements is nicely done (it is all gentle and pastoral, but in different flavors). But although the work is optimistic and happy and almost entirely without dramatic conflict, it is not in any sense superficial (especially the central movement carries a weight that is rather striking), and even at 36 minutes it does not feel a moment too long – although not particularly fast, the music flows so naturally and gracefully that it almost seems to pass by too quickly. The second symphony, from 1905, is a tad fiercer – strength, heroism and resilience, perhaps, in addition to the optimism. The style and sound world is really pretty much the same as in the first symphony, though there are some darker clouds in the sky here. Like its predecessor this symphony is captivatingly atmospheric and flows with such inevitability that it easily keeps the listener’s attention throughout: It’s really the kind of music where one feels that the composer could go just keep on spinning the ideas further almost forever without losing the listener’s interest – even when those ideas are themselves not necessarily particularly striking.
The performances by the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen under Christopher Fifield are overall very good. Yes, one could imagine a touch more opulence and color in the strings, and slightly warmer winds, but really: That’s probably not going to happen anytime soon, and these performances are way, way above the merely serviceable. The sound, too, is decently balanced if a bit dry. In sum: Very good if not perfect performances of truly compelling and original music – no, they may not ultimately be timeless masterpieces, but really: If you like late romantic music in general, this is something of a change from the usual pace: You really won’t have heard anything that sounds quite like the symphonies of Robert Hermann before. So despite some caveats, I think I can defend a top rating for this release – especially since the other reviewer gave it four stars, which feels a bit stingy. And Sterling should be praised for the effort.