Pál Hermann’s music revived, thanks to Toccata Classics

When I saw the title for this release, I thought I might want to review it. When I read the subtitle, I knew I had to review it. I’d never heard of Pál Hermann, and I’m always looking for new composers to discover. But “Complete Surviving Music?” What did that mean? What did it survive? I had to know more.

It turns out that Pál Hermann was a virtuoso cellist. And he also composed music — and not just for his instrument. Hermann studied composition with his fellow Hungarians Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály.

Because of his Jewish background, he tried to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. In 1934 he was forced out of the faculty of Berlin’s Musikschule Paul Hindemith Neukölln. He relocated to Brussels, and then in 1937, as the German army built up along the border, he moved to France.

And that’s when his luck ran out. He was in southern France. When the Nazis overran the country, that area became Vichy France, a puppet state of Germany. Pál Hermann was deported to an extermination camp in Lithuania, where he presumably died.

Only two of Hermann’s works were published during his lifetime. It’s a miracle that any of his manuscripts survived at all.

Almost all the works received their world recording premieres with this release. Most important, I think, is the Cello Concerto. There are no recordings of Pál Hermann’s playing. But the demands he puts on the cellist in this concerto can give us a fair idea of the scope of his talent and technique.

The 1925 concerto was left incomplete at Hermann’s death. Italian composer Fabio Conti was commissioned to reconstruct and complete the work. In the liner notes the project is called a collaboration between two composers. It is, and it works. Hermann fully orchestrated only the first movement. Conti’s orchestration of the other four movements matches it perfectly.

To my ears, Hermann’s style sits somewhere between his two teachers. His harmonies are more conservative than Bartók’s while his melodies and structures are leaner and more modernist than Kodály.

This is an important release. Hermann’s music is original and beautifully crafted. Pál Hermann vanished from history. His music deserves a better fate. Highly recommended.

Pál Hermann: Complete Surviving Music, Volume One
Sofia Soloviy, soprano
Kateryna Poteriaieva, violin, Clive Greensmith, cello
Alina Shevchenko, Roman Machenko, pianos
Lviv International Symphony Orchestra; Theodore Kuchar, conductor
Toccata Classics TOCC 0443

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