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Emil HARTMANN (1836-1898)
Piano Quintet in G minor (1865) [27:11]
String Quartet in A minor, Op.14 (c.1872-75) [18:31]
String Quartet in C minor, Op.37 [20:36]
Andante and Allegro in A minor, Op.12 [9:59]
Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider (violin), Nicolas Dupont (violin), Tony Nys (viola), Justus Grimm (cello), Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
rec. 2018, Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music, Poland
DACAPO 8.226183 [76:17]

The son of J.P.E. Hartmann and brother-in-law of Niels Gade, Emil Hartmann was a restless figure, subject to bouts of depression. Though solidly based in Copenhagen he travelled to Germany where his works were performed but missed out on a series of prestigious appointments in his homeland. Despite this, he wrote extensively – three operas, theatrical music of all kinds and a wealth of orchestral music, which is perhaps his most clear legacy. But he also wrote chamber music, a considerable amount of which remains unpublished, as is the case with the two earliest works here, the Piano Quintet and the String Quartet in A minor.

Hartmann’s gift is for melodic generosity allied to verdant characterisation. His music is, to be crude, Leipzig in orientation but no less the fresh for all that and if his dual debt to Mendelssohn and Schumann is clear his engaging sense of fun and openheartedness is also audible. The Piano Quintet dates from 1865 when Hartmann was 29. Modelled after Schumann it may be, but there are strongly outlined romantic themes to enjoy, the piano part full of fancy and passion. There are certainly moments that echo Mendelssohn’s Piano Trios as well as the occasionally slightly grandiloquent Beethovenian cadence, but focus on the lied-like beauty of the Romanza, the playful Scherzo and the chorale-like elements of the finale (he must have listened to Mendelssohn’s Op.66 trio) and you won’t feel short-changed.

The string quartets reprise these personable, generous elements. The earlier of the two here, written around 1872-75, has insinuating themes, sweetly lyric and full of charm. There are Schubertian echoes in the slow movement and opportunities for the quartet to play out in the exciting finale. The later work in C minor follows the same pattern though increases the expressive breadth of the music; solemnity in the opening, rarefied beauty in the Andante and folkloric hints in the finale. An example of writing for two instruments comes as an envoi. This is the Andante and Allegro in A minor, seemingly written around the time of the A minor Quartet and dedicated to Gade. It’s a fantasia-improvisation with a long piano introduction though not, to be truthful, as diverting or personal a work as the chamber music that precedes it in the programme. This is no reflection on Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider and Daniel Blumenthal, who play with wholehearted dedication.

In fact the whole album is one of fulfilled dedication, from the booklet notes to the artwork. The performances are pliant, sympathetic and well recorded. All the pieces are claimed as premiere recordings and whilst none is earth-shaking, their amalgam of obvious models and Hartmann’s own generosity of spirit proves enlivening.

Jonathan Woolf

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