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Thomas de HARTMANN (1885-1956)
Sonata for Violin & Piano, Op. 51 (1936) [29:12]
La Kobsa (1950) [5:17]
Hommage à Borodine: Sérénade-badinage (1929) [1:54]
Feuillet d'un vieil album (1929) [2:50]
Fantaisie Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra, Op. 65 (1942) [15:59]
Chanson sentimentale (1929) [1:55]
Deux pleureuses, Op. 64 (1942) [5:58]
Koladky, Op. 60 (1940) [14:46]
Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, Op. 63 (1941) [37:17]
Menuet fantasque, Op. 66 (1942)
Four Dances from Esther, Op. 76 (1946) [7:22]
Trio for Flute, Violin and Piano, Quasi Variation, Op. 75 (1946) [25:35]
Elan Sicroff (piano)
Anneke Janssen (cello)
Natalia Gabunia (violin)
Katharina Naomi Paul (violin, Sonata Op. 51)
Quirijn van Regteren Altena (double bass, Concerto Op. 65)
Amstel Quartet (saxophones, Koladky)
Ingrid Geerlings (flute), Joris van Rijn (violin, Trio Op. 75)
rec. October 2011-June 2015, Studio 1, Muziek Centrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, Netherlands
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6411 [77:51 + 72:52]

The Thomas de Hartmann Project, with Elan Sicroff as its artistic director and counting Robert Fripp as executive director, was responsible for a substantial set of excellent recordings that appeared around 2016 on the Basta label. These fine performances done with leading musicians are now re-released by Nimbus, and as a collection they are full of discovery and superbly crafted music.

This two CD set of Thomas de Hartmann’s chamber music dots around somewhat in terms of dates, but the programme has been put together well with plenty of contrast, and with most of the later works grouped on disc 2. The Sonata for Violin and Piano is a good opener, its full-blooded romanticism rich in positive energy. There is an eclectic feel to the episodic nature of the way the music is put together, allowing de Hartmann to spread his stylistic wings to embrace a certain amount of impressionism and the exotic East. The Andante central movement is gorgeously tuneful, and cadenzas for both violin and piano in the lively third movement encourage the feeling that this could have made an effective concerto, though the piano writing is of course entirely idiomatic. At nearly 30 minutes this is a major work, filled with fascinating material and the kind of piece that has superb concert ‘presence’. La Kobsa uses a solo cello to capture the essence of Ukranian folk instruments, while the Hommage à Borodin and Feuillet d’un vieil album for violin and piano from 1929 are nice little romantic pieces that remind us of de Hartmann’s studies with Arensky. More significant is the Fantaisie - Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra, heard here in the composer’s own reduction for accompaniment with piano. De Hartmann wrote that this piece evokes a particular summer in 1838, “the memory of the Russian genius [Glinka], the atmosphere of the 1830s, the charm of the Ukranian landscape, gave the inspiration for this concerto.” This delivers a light touch to the music, with a certain pastoral feel and plenty of playful passages. De Hartmann also refers to a specific instrument in his subtitle to this work, and it is a copy of Serge Koussevitzky’s double bass that is used for this performance, which indeed has an admirable cello-like quality in the lyrical central movement entitled Romance 1830. Talking of cellos, the Deux pleureuses dedicated to Pablo Casals reportedly “produced a deep impression” after the famous cellist played them in 1946, declaring that “your melodies were a triumph!” CD 1 ends with Koladky or Ukranian Christmas Carols, heard here in a version for saxophone quartet, though these are also playable with a string quartet or presumably any other similar setting. These nine pieces fall under de Hartmann’s Folklore imaginaire category of original music “inspired by the image of folk creativity” and with plenty of recurring regional cadences. Contrasting darkness and light, dance-like rhythms and eloquently slow music this is a highly appealing collection, and played with finely turned subtlety of colour and phrasing by the excellent Amstel Quartet.

The Sonata for Violoncello and Piano is a more modern affair than the violin sonata, with hints of the kind of stresses and contrasts that can be found in Martinů’s cello sonatas. De Hartmann never abandoned his romantic idiom however, and even in the more outspoken outer movements there are plenty of lyrical oases. The central movement is a Tema con variazioni with a lovely prayerful spirit that opens out into a relatively genial and gentle set of variations. The delicious Menuet fantastique is adapted from de Hartmann’s Violin Concerto Op. 66, and the Four Dances from Esther are arrangements from an opera he started composing as the Nazis occupied France, the biblical Esther “a symbol and an inspiration for everyone who is trying to save the world from the terror which threatens to engulf all of Europe.” The final major work here is the Trio for Flute, Violin and Piano which was commissioned by the renowned Moyse Trio. This is an excellent piece that deserves to be far better known; as full of colour as anything by Ravel, and with little touches of bitonality that might hint at Milhaud or Villa-Lobos. The music is not without its moments of dramatic toughness, but de Hartmann’s signature lyricism is never far away and there are some fascinating dialogues and passages of counterpoint. There is jocular humour to be found in a distorted Viennese waltz, and Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ is also invoked at one point. This is a stunning work with which to end this Nimbus introduction to the music of Thomas de Hartmann, and I would urge everyone to find out just how good it all is for themselves.

Dominy Clements

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