This double-CD set from Danacord is an important
addition to the catalogue of Danish music. It comes hard on the
heels of a similar project by the same performer partnership celebrating
the songs of Emil Hartmann’s mother Emma (1807-1851) which was
released on the now seemingly defunct ClassicO label (CLASSCD
Emil Hartmann, was born in Copenhagen in 1836 and was at first instructed in music by his father, then by a certain Anton Rée and later by Niels Gade who was the composer’s brother-in-law. He held a number of appointments in Denmark including at St John's Church in Copenhagen and later at the Christiansborg Palace Church. He spent much time travelling and typically preferred living in Germany rather than in his homeland. Hartmann lived the last years of his life in Copenhagen and died in 1898. He was an active composer writing in all the main forms - including much incidental music for the theatre although typically he concentrated on liturgical music. However, in his catalogue are a number of orchestral works including three symphonies, an overture, and concertos
. There is also a quantity of music for chamber ensemble.
Emil Hartmann, like his father and mother are now largely forgotten composers: certainly outside Denmark. There are relatively few recordings dedicated to their music. However, Danacord and a few others have made sterling efforts at reviving the musical achievements of this family.
The present CD represents the first recording of a large selection of Emil Hartmann’s romantic songs. These are all settings of texts by Scandinavian poets although a number of them are sung in German. The songs are taken from the composer’s entire career, although they are not presented in chronological order.
Listening to these songs, one is conscious of a vast number of musical influences and allusions. The booklet notes suggest that Hartmann was often accused of ‘hoovering’ up contemporary - and not so contemporary - styles. Niels Gade is one such crib. However, I could not help listening to these songs with an ‘English’ ear. Certainly, I detected overtones of Sir Henry Bishop and Sir Arthur Sullivan in a number of them. This is most likely to be filtered through these latter names’ association with Germany rather than any understanding by Hartmann of Victorian song!
Iben Vestergård takes this music very seriously. It is obvious that she feels at home with these songs and responds well to their varied emotions and musical styles. Sometimes her voice is a little strained and has an edge to it that detracts from the enjoyment of this music. Cathrine Penderup provides a spirited and sympathetic accompaniment.
I was disappointed with the song-texts as presented in the liner notes. The German and Danish words are given, however the only English translation appears to be of the first verse. For those of us not blessed with an understanding of Danish and German this detracts from enjoyment and understanding.
Any misgivings about this are to some extent mitigated by the two excellent essays in the booklet – the first giving a brief, but enlightening essay about the composer’s life and the second being a long analysis of his songs.
The important thing with this double CD is to explore it slowly and surely. I would suggest listening to groups of songs rather than ploughing through an entire ‘side’.
Finally, this is an important release for enthusiasts of Danish music. In spite of one or two niggles this will likely remain the definitive version of these songs for many years. It is brave of Danacord to embark on a recording project such as this. It deserves to be successful.