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Emil HARTMANN (1836-1898)
Violin Concerto in G minor Op 19 (1876) [25.15]
Cello Concerto in D minor Op.26 (1879) [18.52]
Piano Concerto in F minor Op.49 (1890) [26.02]
Christina Åstrand (violin)
Stanimir Todorov (cello)
Per Salo (piano)
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
Recorded in Helsingborg Konserthus, September 2003 and August 2004
DACAPO SACD 6.220511 [70.09]

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None of these concertos is new to disc but all are nevertheless welcome. The Violin Concerto was written in 1876, just a few years before that of Brahms, but it breathes a different kind of air entirely. With the solo violin entering stealthily there’s a lot of broken passagework very reminiscent of Mendelssohn, some warm and romantic tunes and a good sense of tension and release. The slow movement is warm, with a splendidly timed move to the Allegretto scherzando that sits in the middle. It’s crafted with real skill, an insider’s understanding of the solo instrument and a consummate ear for orchestral colour – try the orchestral pizzicati, the buzzing lower brass and wind writing. But what it most resembles is a pièce de concert. For all the craft and skill it has an occasional, rather superficial character that never digs very deeply and certainly makes no attempt either to recall or to reflect the sensibilities embodied in the great mid century romantic concertos. For all that it makes a pleasing effect and so does the finale with its rather Wagnerian horns and its hint of Schumann as the movement gets into its stride. The Finale problem isn’t resolved – too much repetitious writing – but it’s a work that leaves an impression of skill and affection, if not in the end memorability.

The Cello Concerto followed three years later. It bears some kinship with the kind of concertos written at around this time for Piatti, Popper and Grützmacher – in fact it was to the last named that it was dedicated, though the premiere went to the Danish cellist Robert Hansen. Melancholy in places with an almost immediate cadential passage (a sop to virtuoso prestige I think and a miscalculation) this is a lyrical work that thrives, if one can put it that way, on a rather autumnal withdrawal. The orchestration is light, attempting to overcome the cello concerto dilemma (how not to drown it), but persuasively adept. The Canzonetta second movement is a delight – verdant and delicious – and the finale light and frothy and none too serious.

Finally we have the rather later 1890 Piano Concerto. After a rather halting start the writing becomes ever more fluent and lightly won. If there are criticisms to be made they will probably centre on the melodic material and the feeling one sometimes gets that the orchestration is rather stitched around the piano solo – instead of fusing organically with it. His central movement is another Canzonetta and this possesses what Hartmann did so well – a warm wistful quality that stays in the memory even if the individual melodic lines don’t always do so. There are plenty of ideas in the finale  - a good role for the cello principal for instance – and there is some idiomatic writing for horns and trumpet. It’s a pleasurable work and entirely consistent with Hartmann’s earlier concertos in looking backwards rather than sideways, let alone forwards. 

I listened to this Super Audio CD on an ordinary set up which may account for the rather swimmy acoustic set-up. This may sound perfectly well when optimally set up; I mention it as a brief precaution. As I said you will find these concertos elsewhere individually but you won’t find them coupled together as here. Investigation will not hurt.

Jonathan Woolf         







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