This is a disc for connoisseurs of the German romantic orchestral lied. Sommer does not tip over into the expressionism of Zemlinsky and Schreker. This Brunswick-born German composer instead writes music that inhabits a toasty-warm romantic, quasi-Wagnerian idiom - dramatic and idyllic.
On this evidence he stops short of emulating the writing of the mature Richard Strauss who, in any event, was from a later generation. If you know the orchestral songs of Granville Bantock - such as the Hafiz and Sappho cycles written years after these -just intensify them and then you know where on your shelves this disc of twenty songs belongs. The idiom may be familiar but the invention is fresh and the singing and playing is wonderfully well judged.
Both singers - Kulman takes the lion’s share - are ardent, engaged and completely in style. Kulman brings a ripe Janet Baker resemblance her singing: try the dreamy mists of Ach neige, du Schmezenriche. Skovhus handles cheery kindly (König und floh) and earnest (Der Fischer) with equal skill. It would be good to hear these voices also in the orchestral lieder of that other master of the idiom, Josef Marx. The orchestration is imaginative with a plethora of detailing, including fleeting spot-lit moments for solo violin (Wozu soll ich redden?), flute and clarinet. The flute line is at times like a medieval dog on the death statue of its master, entwined in affection and fidelity at the departed’s feet. The songs sometimes radiate a torrid ardour, at others a bluff humour of the sort I associate with Siegfried Wagner (Mailied and Frech und Froh). He also has cause at times to call on a more gentle muse. At times there’s a quite magical concentration as in Des Harfners Gesang and Wanderers Nachtlied and lulling hypnotics, as in Symbolum.
Sommer wrote numerous operas, lieder and some orchestral works. His stepfather was none other than Peter Voigtländer, whose name on vintage cameras will be well known to students of photography. Sommer’s research into lenses contributed to the development of commercial cameras through the Voigtländer company.
The sung words are printed in the attractive booklet alongside English translations. The notes by Carsten Niemann cover the main bases but I wish we had been given more information about Sommer and a clear list of works.
If you enjoy the orchestral lieder of Pfitzner, Reger, Schoeck and Marx you should hear this disc.
In summary then: full-flood, refulgent romanticism from these pretty-much unknown songs with orchestra. The songs are sung with commitment and the voices and orchestral treatment suit the music very well.
1-6 Sapphos Gesänge op. 6 [24:16] (Nr. 1: Die Blume verblühet auf fließender Flut [2:42]; Nr. 2: Wozu soll ich reden? [4:13]; Nr. 3: Hört mich, Ihr grausamen Götter! [6:27]; Nr. 4: Nicht lange ist's her [3:33]; Nr. 5: Ich singe der Kraft, die die Erde hält [1:37]; Nr. 6: Weine nicht, weil dich die Götter gesendet [5:44])
7 Odysseus op. 11 Nr. 1 [2:17]
8 Der Fischer (Goethe) [3:47]
9 König und Floh (Goethe) [1:22]
10 Der Türmer singt auf der Schosswarte (Goethe) [1:59]
11 Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche (Goethe) [5:41]
12 An den Mond (Goethe) [5:12]
13 Mailied (Goethe) [3:44]
14 Frech und froh (Goethe) [1:59]
15 Des Harfners Gesang (Goethe) [1:49]
16 Mignon singt, als Engel angetan (Goethe) [3:46]
17 Mignons Sehnen (Goethe) [2:20]
18 Symbolum (Goethe) [4:19]
19 Wonne der Wehmut (Goethe) [2:40]
20 Wanderers Nachtlied (Goethe) [2:58]