ROBERT HERMANN: Symphony No. 1 in C major (1895) & Symphony No. 2 in A minor (1905) – Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen /Christopher Fifield – Sterling CDS 1081-2, 74:42 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:
Robert Hermann (1869-1912) makes a welcome appearance in Sterling’s series of Romantic composers from Switzerland. Largely unknown today, his music is well worth investigation, especially by those who love Romantic works. Hermann was born in Bern though he lived in Germany in later in later life, having studied both music and medicine, the former with Engelbert Humperdinck just before the publication of his first symphony. He is yet another composer encouraged by Grieg to follow his muse.
The interesting essay accompanying this release is an extensive article written by Dr. Walter Niemann in 1909 for a series of monographs on contemporary composers and it makes fascinating reading. Although the Leipzig publishers, Hofmeister, published thirteen works, mostly “weighty items” Niemann makes the point that his music had until then been greeted with apathy, and he continues in his article to make a good case for the composer. On the basis of these two symphonies Hermann was able to produce well-crafted and interesting works.
The first symphony is in three movements, with a substantial middle slow one of Brucknerian proportions, though more bucolic. The work as a whole is wide-eyed and optimistic, depicting middle Europe’s great outdoors, a pastoral symphony in all but name. It’s the countryside without too much drama. The slow movement is particularly lovely with an evocative part for harp.
The second symphony dates from the composer’s thirties – he died at the early age of 43 – and is in four movements. This is a more confident work with some impressive writing for brass in the outer movements, and very well played by the Württembergers’ brass section. More the son of Schubert and Grieg than Beethoven and Brahms, Hermann’s symphony is no mean achievement.
The Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen under Christopher Fifield make an excellent case for these nearly forgotten works, playing them with affection and with the conviction they need to burst into bloom. The recordings from May 2008 and February 2009 sound very well indeed, made in a location with excellent acoustics, and presented with a natural and well-balanced concert hall perspective.
Those looking for something interesting off the beaten track could do well to investigate this release; those loyal followers of Bo Hyttner’s interesting releases on his Sterling label will need no encouragement!
— Peter Joelson