Symphony No. 1/Herrmann
February 2, 2011
Completed in 1941 it was first performed by the orchestra that Bernard had worked with for so many years the CBS Symphony Orchestra under his baton. It was over a year later that it was performed by the NY Philharmonic conducted by Howard Barlow giving it the official premiere. Later attempts to try to get other conductors interested proved unsuccessful and the work has pretty much lost any interest. Ormandy at the time was interested but only if cuts were made to it. One can only imagine the reaction from Herrmann knowing his volatile nature. There are only two recordings that I know of; this Koch CD#3-7135-2HI and a CD coupled with the Fantasticks on the Unicorn/Kanchana label #UKCD2063. The recording came from an LP that Herrmann had recorded in 1975. Both versions are the revised one and as far as I know there is no available recording of the original symphony without the revisions. The Koch is available for purchase as a download but a CD in the used market these days for either the Koch or the Unicorn is a bit pricey.
Herrmann classified himself as a Neo-Romantic saying “I like to write music which takes its inspiration from poetry, art and nature.” Compared to other compositions of the time it most certainly doesn’t have the modern sound at all, far from it. Having said that this isn’t close to the Rachmaninoff 3rd Symphony or his Symphonic Dances both written about the same time as his symphony and ones I would definitely consider neo-romantic.
The first movement starts with the horns announcing the melody quite stoic. It changes to a pastoral theme which is combined with the original theme until once again the horns take over. A coda finishes the complex structured movement. The Scherzo, clip included is very typical sounding Herrmann as one can hear strains of Devil and Daniel Webster quite prominently throughout. The Andante returns to a foreign sounding Herrmann with a slower sad tempo including a lonely moving trombone solo calling its voice out into the night. The final movement is a Rondo which is announced by the trumpet in a fanfare fashion again very Herrmann sounding with plenty of activity from the brass. At times there is a sense of urgency and at other times it is a positive forward moving section.
The two recordings sound somewhat different. The digital Koch recording has a smoother sound and a slightly slower pace surprising when you usually think of Herrmann always being on the slow side in his classical conducting. The Unicorn recording has a brighter sound but lacks the overall smoothness of the Koch. Either if found at the right price are most acceptable.
This is a recording that Herrmann score lovers are going to have to get use to. While there are sections of very familiar sounding material there is much that will be quite foreign. For the Herrmann lover who is willing to give this material several listens I think they will become quite attached to it as I have over the years.
Track Listing: Total Time is 34:11
- Maestso – Allegro con fuoco pesante (13:28)
- Scherzo (Allegro con brio) (5:48)
- Andante Sostenuto (7:37)
- Rondo – Finale (Lento – Allegro vivace / Epilogue A La Processional) (7:18)