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Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)
The Eight Symphonies

Symphony No. 1 Versuch eines Requiem (1937, 1948) [26.22]
Symphony No. 2 Adagio (1946, 1950) [15.27]
Symphony No. 3 (1948-49) [30.25]
Symphony No. 4 for string orchestra (1947) [33.07']
Symphony No. 5 Sinfonia Concertante (1951) [16.15]
Symphony No. 6 (1953) [22.50]
Symphony No. 7 (1959) [30.10]
Symphony No. 8 (1963) [25.57]
Cornelia Kallisch (alto) (1)
Arno Bornkamp (baritone saxophone) (2)
Bamberger Symphoniker/Ingo Metzmacher
rec. Bamberg, Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth - Saal, Kulturraum. 1993-1996 DDD
co-production with Bavarian Radio
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 56911 2 5 [3CDs: 72.56+72.33+56.19]


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This is not the first complete cycle of the Hartmann symphonies. That honour rests with Wergo who issued them on four CDs in 1989. Before that the Wergo recordings had appeared in an LP boxed set in 1980. The CDs were designated AAD with the recordings being studio tapes from Bavarian Radio variously conducted by Macal, Rieger, Leitner and predominantly Kubelik. The EMI set derives from full digital recordings made by one orchestra and conductor. Interestingly Bavarian Radio are behind the cycle but this time the Bamberg orchestra is used rather than Bavarian Radio forces.

If you do not know Hartmann's symphonies then you need to think in terms of Mahler’s Sixth filtered through Berg and the Stravinsky of Oedipus Rex; maybe the Symphony of Psalms.

The phantasmagorical First Symphony is greatly enhanced in its cataclysmic despairing impact by the superb contralto of Cornelia Kallisch who enunciates each word of the Whitman poems with rare intelligence and accuracy. Comparing the Rieger version on Wergo we encounter the very best of analogue technology with spot-lit microphone placement of considerable power. Doris Soffel is in much the same league as Kallisch but is more closely recorded. It has to be said that even this close-up positioning does no disservice to Soffel's voice.

The Third Symphony sounds more strikingly powerful in the Wergo recording (conducted by Leitner) but closer examination prompts a recommendation for the EMI whose wide dynamic range from whispered Bachian cantabile to clamorous protest in the massive adagio is rendered superbly by the new digital recording.

After the 35 minutes of the Third Symphony hearing the quarter hour Second Symphony in all its glowing luminosity and with its references to the sinister woodwind writing in the Rite of Spring, is almost a relaxation. While the EMI lacks the concert depth and immediacy of the Wergo it is a more natural balance. If you want spectacular rather than natural then you opt for Wergo but dynamic range is rendered with greater fidelity by EMI.

The half hour Fourth Symphony is intensely put across by Kubelik who on Wergo also conducts numbers 5 and 6 and the Gesangs-Szene the latter not included in the Metzmacher. EMI stick to the symphonies and nothing but the symphonies. Metzmacher is in not quite the same league of intensity as Kubelik but the recording has plenty of heft as a comparison of the two versions of the allegro di molto second movement shows.

When it comes to the bubbly Pulcinella-accented Fifth Symphony with its scherzo looking back seventeen years to the finale of Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto, honours are divided pretty equally. Close-up recording placement is typical of the whole Wergo cycle making a really immediate impact on the listener.

The Sixth Symphony is one of the most powerful symphonic utterances of the 1950s. A hefty adagio is followed by a manic Toccata variata which runs out of hand even faster with Metzmacher than with Kubelik.

From the Sixth Symphony onwards all the symphonies were in two movements. The Seventh was first performed in 1959 having been written over the previous three years. It is soured, Bergian, the zenith of clarity and the avoidance of orchestral congestion. Metzmacher has the usual advantage of totally silent surfaces whereas Macal (in an unaccustomed role in 20th century repertoire) labours with the analogue hiss which seems to be slightly more noticeable in this case. The EMI bands the second section (scherzoso virtuoso) of the last movement separately where the Wergo does not.

The Eighth is Hartmann's most extreme symphony. It is soured in the avant-garde episodic kaleidoscopic stream. Brilliantly recorded in the Wergo version, the players put it across with an almost death-defying singleness of purpose; so do Metzmacher and his orchestra. Metzmacher makes more of the poetry of the work - and there is poetry there.

The first six symphonies each have their origins in works written during the Nazi period 1933-45 and then withdrawn. Thus No. 1 draws on Symphonic Fragment (1935-36), No. 2 on the slow movement of the 'symphonic suite' Vita Nova, No. 3 from parts of the Klagesang (1944) and Tragica (1940-43) symphonies, No. 4 from a concerto for strings and soprano (1938), No. 5 from a 1932 trumpet concerto and No. 6 from the symphony L'Oeuvre (1937-38). It would be good to track down and record all these original works (Koch have recorded the Tragica) and try to understand why Hartmann discarded them. They are documents of an appalling era but one whose reflection of the contemporaneous effect on Hartmann is likely to be stimulating telling us, from our position of comparative comfort, something about being swept up in the hectoring horror of the times.

The words of the First Symphony (the only one with a vocal element) are provided in German, English and French in the booklet. The compact notes are by Andreas Jachinski.

The Wergo set still sounds pretty spectacular with close-up miking and potent dynamics. Each of those radio tapes was an event and you can feel that. The Metzmacher versions are good and better but, swings and roundabouts allowing, the Wergo is more likely to deliver a memory-etched experience than the EMI. The Wergo is not as well documented as the EMI and of course you have to put up with good analogue FM sound. This means background hiss which many will want to avoid. For those who go for the Metzmacher they are unlikely to be disappointed. These EMI versions are likely to be the library standards for at least the next decade. On this basis I can happily recommend this set and would only propose the Wergo to those who want to hear the closest approach to the maker's readings of these strangely chilly and chilling documents of tragedy and disillusion and for those who must also have the Gesangs-Szene. The EMI also has the advantages of economy as against the more opulently laid out full-price 4 CD Wergo set.

Rob Barnett

 



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