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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
I sentimenti di C.P.E. Bach (1982) [12:30]
Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)
Concerto funèbre (1939) [21:33]
Symphonie No.4 (1938, rev. 1947) [33:47]
Svetlin Roussev (violin)
Philippe Bernold (flute)
Xavier de Maistre (harp)
Orchestre d’Auvergne/Arie van Beek
rec. L’Opéra de Vichy, December 2004
POLYMNIE POL 610 434 [67:49]

 

Well programmed, this recording begins with the relatively light ‘filler’ material – lighter in terms of musical style and content, but nothing if not a worthwhile contribution to the catalogue. There isn’t a great deal of information about the pieces on this CD in the booklet, but I sentimenti di C.P.E. Bach was transcribed from C.P.E. Bach’s 1787 composition, a ‘Fantasy for Keyboard’ with the same title. The transcriptions keep C.P.E. Bach’s often quite explosive mannerisms, emphasising their contrasting diversity in a Concerto Grosso format with solo flute and harp often to the fore, but with plenty of meaty chunks for the accompanying string orchestra. The playing is superb – sensitive to the baroque idiom without striving for any kind of artificially imposed ‘authenticity.’ Philippe Bernold and Xavier de Maistre give complete virtuosic satisfaction, and Henze’s richly colourful orchestration makes this a succulent feast for the ear.

The two main works are both by Karl Amadeus Hartmann, who, like Henze, wintered the Nazi period in Germany and flourished as an artist on its demise. Hartmann’s Concerto funèbre was premièred in Switzerland in 1940, and uses recognisable musical quotes from a Czech Hussite chorale and an anti-Tsarist song in the fourth movement. Hartmann’s note in the margin of the manuscript ‘Written during the first days of the war: September/November 1939’ make the associations and intentions clear. Svetlin Roussev’s solo violin isn’t overly spot-lit and becomes very much part of the ensemble, enhancing a chamber music feel to this performance. The whole effect is emotionally involving and in places as heartfelt and disturbing as the Molto adagio movement from Bartók’s contemporaneous ‘Divertimento.’

Also for strings alone, Hartmann’s fourth symphony originally had a vocal finale which was dropped in the 1947 revision. This work also reflects the darkness and sombre mood felt by culturally sensitive and creative people in this period of Germany’s history. The opening 15 minute Lento assai – con passione is full of open, desolate intervals – tremulando atmosphere and impassioned but inconclusive moments of climax. The second Allegro di molto unfolds with similarly intangible tonalities, but with a stabbing violence and rhythmic fervour which is most impressive. The final Adagio appasionato grows from almost nothing, hinting at a final reward of harmonic apotheosis, but drawing back from any ultimate tonal grounding. Intense, drawn-out contrapuntal development carries the listener through a ‘grand arch,’ the door quietly closing behind Hartmann’s vision with a reference to the understated pizzicati with which the movement began.

The Orchestre d’Auvergne respond well to Arie van Beek’s conducting, and you can sense an involvement with the music which brings out the best in the players. The opera house acoustic is nice enough, but provides an occasional ricochet effect from the clearly vast and empty auditorium in front of the musicians, who are positioned on stage. I don’t dislike the overall impression, but there are one or two moments where the soundstage can sound just a little (and I hesitate to use the word) ‘phasey’ – where the microphone array is possibly having to cope with one reflection too many. This is however a minor point, and like every recording the ear adjusts. There is certainly a great deal of detail, and such ‘hot’ recording certainly shows the talent of this orchestra to its best advantage. There is some strong competition in Isabelle Faust’s ECM recording which covers both of the Hartmann pieces on this disc, but I have no hesitation in recommending this recording of some fascinating and historically significant repertoire.

Dominy Clements

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