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Thomas de HARTMANN (1885-1956)
Three Romances Op. 5 (1900) [3:43]
Romance: Take a Wreath of my Verses [1:43]
Four Melodies Op. 17 (1915) [
To the Moon Op. 18 (1915) [1:33]
Cranes Op. 18 from the cycle ‘Volga’ (1920) [2:38]
Morning (1931) [1:18]
Bulgarian Songs Op. 46 (1931) [4:33]
Three Poems by Shelley Op. 52 (1936) [10:51]
Sonnet de Ronsard Les Amours de Cassandre Op. 54 (1936) [2:16]
Romance 1830 Op. 55 (1936) [2:20]
A Poet’s Love - Nine Poems by Pushkin Op. 59 (1937) [20:02]
Six Commentaries from ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce Op. 71 (1943) [19:11]
Pour chanter à la route d’Assise from À la St. Jean d’été (1948) [1:32]
La Taramuntana Op. 80 (1949) [3:16]
Nina Lejderman, Claron McFadden (soprano)
Elan Sicroff (piano)
Judith Petra, Anjolet Rotteveel, Alan Belk, Daniël Hermán Mostert
rec. October 2011 and June 2015, Muziek Centrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, Netherlands.

This and other recordings appeared in a set on the Basta label under the title of “The Thomas de Hartmann Project”, led by pianist Elan Sicroff, who had studied with de Hartmann’s wife Olga in the 1970s and in effect took on her advocacy of her husband’s music. These excellent recordings are now re-released on the Nimbus label, with well documented booklets and in this case most of the sung texts printed and translated into English.

Swedish soprano Nina Lejderman has a beautiful voice, and the often quite restrained character of her singing suits de Hartmann’s lyrical style very well indeed. The earlier songs are romantic in style and superbly crafted. The ear is drawn to a stylistic leap in the Bulgarian Songs Op. 46, which absorb folk styles and echoes of the kind of ritualistic writing we also hear in Stravinsky’s Les noces. Thomas de Hartmann’s name is forever associated with that of G.I. Gurdjieff, and it was his philosopher teacher’s influence that pointed him in the direction of Armenian and other musics from Asia and the East. There is indeed some mystic power in the Three Poems by Shelly Op. 52, sung here with more operatic forcefulness by Claron McFadden, “the raw expression of a man who would not be deluded by contemporary ideas of religion and morality.”

De Hartmann never quite escapes the French melodie style when setting that language, and the sweeping expressiveness of the Sonnet de Ronsard is a fine example of this. More nostalgic but still with plenty of emotive stress is the Romance 1830 on a text by Vassily Zhukovsky, who was a lifelong friend of Alexander Pushkin. The set of nine songs on poems by Pushkin, A Poet’s Love is a wide-ranging cycle and one which truly reveals de Hartmann’s sensitivity to text, responding to each poem with a kind of perfect inevitability when it comes to atmosphere and vocal lines. There is subtle, sophisticated simplicity alongside remarkable colour and depth here, and even at his most romantic de Hartmann manages to avoid overt sentimentality. Sharpness of contrast can be found between the Pushkin settings and the Six Commentaries from ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce Op. 71. De Hartmann’s own commentary on this work indicates that they “are not songs in the proper sense, rather they are musical descriptions of the situation which underlines the bizarre, fantastic and sometimes terrible pictures of the human psyche which Joyce has portrayed in Ulysses.” There are indeed touches of theatricality here and some spoken text, though you can’t really consider it de Hartmann’s answer to William Walton’s far more whimsical Façade whatever the temptation. There is some stunningly beautiful music here, and the Eclogue is sublime. The whole programme finishes with a vocal quartet, La Tramuntana or ‘across the mountains’, the title referring to “a North wind [that] makes a continuous howling noise, which is said to have a disturbing effect on the psyche”, though the piece itself is actually quite restrained in character.

Very well recorded, superbly performed and full of strikingly well composed songs, this is a collection that deserves its place on every collector’s shelf, of this or any genre. Thomas de Hartmann refused to enter the world of the avant-garde but he didn’t need to - his ideas were strong enough to carry their own identity, and the inspiration he drew from the poems and texts in this well-filled programme certainly created a powerful symbiosis.

Dominy Clements

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