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Karl Amadeus HARTMANN (1905-1963)
Concerto funebre for violin and string orchestra (1939 revised 1959) [21:48]
Suite No.1 for solo violin (1927) [19:54]
Suite No.2 for solo violin (1927) [9:34]
Sonata No.1 for solo violin (1927) [14:58]
Sonata No.2 for solo violin (1927) [14:14]
Alina Ibragimova (violin)
Britten Sinfonia
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, November 2006 (Concerto funebre); January 2007 (sonatas and suites)
HYPERION CDA67547 [80:48]

Many recordings of the Concerto funebre have coupled it with other large-scale orchestral works by Hartmann or have taken the opportunity to programme it with violin concertos by other composers – a course taken for example by Zehetmair and Holliger where they also presented the Berg and Janáček concertos. This one is different. Its focus is unremittingly and uniquely on Hartmann’s violin works.
This is also the debut disc of Alina Ibragimova and whilst she doesn’t enter into quite a hornet’s nest of alternative recordings of the concerto it’s very much the case that the Hartmann admirer has a variety of recordings and approaches from which to select - from the Gertler/Ančerl [Supraphon SU36722 - see review] to this latest entrant. Ibragimova’s approach perhaps most approximates that of Isabelle Faust [ECM 4657792] though the newcomer certainly tends to a greater sense of tonal reserve. As a performance it’s removed profoundly from both Zehetmair’s gritty determinism [Apex 0927408122] and Gertler’s romanticised expression, so too from Čenĕk Pavlík’s sympathetic though less secure intensity [Panton 0529].
A number of key areas will determine your allegiance, or allegiances, as this work - like all great works - will bear a range of approaches. Firstly there’s the matter of the soloist’s tonal and architectural priorities.  Ibragimova is an imaginative and subtle player. The opening statements are measured and withdrawn but she can sculpt with incision and drama when required as she does in the Adagio. Her attacks in the third movement Allegro are resinous and dynamic and in the finale, taken at a perfect tempo, she allies herself to the approach of Faust and to a lesser extent Zehetmair in her tonal responses. Faust’s tonal resources are more variegated than Ibragimova’s. Nobody has since replicated the approach of Gertler whose unbridled and vibrato rich, close-to-the-microphone approach is very much at one extreme – an exceptionally moving, totally committed and unashamed performance led by Ančerl who is almost overwhelming in his concord with his soloist.
There’s next the question of the orchestral sound-world. The Britten Sinfonia is led by Jacqueline Shave but there’s no conductor so this must have been a recording of consensus. One notices that the orchestral climaxes in the Adagio are more atmospheric and “present” in the ECM recording if a little plusher as well. By contrast the Hyperion recording is a little more swimmy and so the third movement orchestral chords and lower string counter-themes don’t register as viscerally – they’re somewhat cushioned and the effect is rather more relaxed, the character of the music muted a little.
Nevertheless this is a most impressive reading all round, entirely cogent architecturally and technically highly accomplished. My own preference remains Faust on ECM for her greater sense of emotive engagement, one that never spills over into excessive effusiveness. Zehetmair’s tempo relationships are highly personal – he takes the Adagio very fast – and his implacable approach is one of strong contrasts not all of them, to my ear, convincing. Čeněk Pavlík, with Milos Konvalinka, is worthy and often impressive but not quite on top of the writing. There are a number of other performances I’ve not had time to mention or have not heard. My own preference however is for Isabelle Faust on ECM and for the older Elmanesque approach of Gertler. One should note that a performance by Wolfgang Schneiderhan with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Rafael Kubelik has just been issued on Orfeo C718071B.
Desirability is increased by the coupling. Others have essayed the sonatas and suites, Ingolf Turban on Claves 509518 most obviously (without coupling) since his were premiere recordings, but Ibragimova has their full measure. She’s rather freer than he was a decade ago, fine player though he is. These are early works, written in 1927 when Hartmann was twenty-two and they owe much to Hindemith and to neo-classicism. She deals dashingly with the timbral contrasts and double stops of the Fugue of the First Suite. Some rough-hewn folk fiddling is called for, as well as some stratospherically high writing. The finale is a tense Chaconne. The Second Suite is considerably more compact with a hymnal or folk song lilt to its opening and a sort of baroque cakewalk for the “Jazz Tempo” finale – though I ought to add that for all his relative youth this is subtly done and not garish, as in the manner of quite a few of his contemporaries whose enthusiasm for American jazz outstripped their capacity to absorb it intelligently.
The First Sonata is a powerful and expressive work that calls for plenty of roughened tone – “ugly” in the composer’s word. Its heartbeat is a long and intense lied exploiting registral extremes, sometimes austere, and very Hindemith-like. The Second Sonata has a few hints that Hartmann knew some Bartók – the demands are incessant, powerful and often unremitting and the folkloric hues are part of a strongly outlined tapestry. The longest single movement of the suites and sonatas comes here - a slow movement of high seriousness and accomplishment.
The sonatas and suites are difficult, sometimes ungrateful sounding works to play but Ibragimova proves a confident and assured guide. Together with the concerto and with fine notes this is an impressive addition to the Hartmann discography.
Jonathan Woolf


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