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Hartmann Orch TOCC0633
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Thomas de HARTMANN (1885-1956)
Koliadky: Noëls Ukrainiens, Op 60 (1940) [17:17]
Symphonie-Poème No 4, Op 90 (1955) [5:31]
Concierto Andaluz for Flute, Strings, and Percussion, Op 81 (1949) [10:13]
Une fête en Ukraine: Suite for Large Orchestra, Op 62 (1940) [32:53]
Bülent Evcil (flute)
Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar
rec. 11-13 September 2021, Lviv, Ukraine

The sheer variety of twists and turns in the life of emigre Ukrainian composer Thomas de Hartmann would shame any author who invented them. Truth is stranger than fiction, however, and de Hartmann’s path through life was strange indeed. Born to an aristocratic Russian family in northern Ukraine, de Hartmann’s uncle, Victor Hartmann, was the muse for Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. De Hartmann simultaneously studied musical and military skills. The Red Flower, a four-act ballet danced by Nijinsky, Pavlova, and Fokine attracted the attention of Tsar Nicholas II, who freed de Hartmann from his continuing military obligations. De Hartmann subsequently relocated to Munich, becoming close associates of the painter Wassily Kandinsky and dancer Alexander Sakharov. Kandinsky’s ideas about color, sound, and artistic abstraction de Hartmann found influential while Sakharov pioneered a naturalistic, expressive form of choreography. Together they created an experimental theater piece, The Yellow Sound. After marrying the daughter of a prominent Russian dignitary, Olga Schumakecher, de Hartmann returned to Russia at the outbreak of the First World War. The couple met the Armenian mystic Georgi Gurdjieff (1872-1949) in 1916 and immediately fell under his sway. Gurdjieff’s teachings about awakening to higher levels of consciousness to create the immortal soul humans lacked at birth resonated with de Hartmann’s spiritual search through music and he and his wife became students of Gurdjieff for twelve years. During this time they fled the Russian Revolution, first to the Caucasus, then to Constantinople, Berlin, and ultimately to Paris. De Hartmann composed music for Gurdjieff’s “sacred gymnastics” and assisted Gurdjieff in writing dozens of short compositions for piano modeled on, variously, Caucasian, Greek, Kurdish, and Persian traditional music.

In 1929, Gurdjieff cut all ties with his early students. De Hartmann continued to compose and made ends meet by teaching and receiving a stipend from his publisher. When the Nazis invaded France in 1940, he and his wife fled their home but remained in France. Moving to New York in 1950, de Hartmann connected with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who had married Olga Ivanovna "Olgivanna" (Lazovich Milanoff), a former Gurdjieff pupil. Wright invited de Hartmann to work with students at his Taliesin West community in Arizona. De Hartmann died in 1956, shortly before a debut concert of his works was to take place. His wife Olga spent her remaining years promoting his music and donated his papers to the Yale University Music Library.

Throughout this whirlwind life, de Hartmann composed steadily. The comprehensive liner notes to this recording list four symphonies, several operas, concertos, chamber music, songs to texts by Joyce, Proust, Shelley, and Verlaine, and fifty-three film scores. This album presents four orchestral works, all first recordings. The first and last represent de Hartmann’s return to the Ukraine of his childhood for inspiration while the other two works are more self-consciously “exotic.”

Koliadky: Noëls Ukrainiens is a nine-movement suite for orchestra. Koliadky are traditional Christmas carols that often include fragments of pre-Christian Slavic practices. In this case, the titles of several carols name the Nature deities Koladá and Ovsèn, figures also appearing in Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1895 opera Christmas Eve. Here they share space with the Wise Men on the Eve of Epiphany. Each movement is short but solemn with great passion contained within its restrained atmosphere. De Hartmann created his own melodies, referring to the suite as “a kind of folklore imaginaire.”

The Symphonie-Poème No 4, by contrast, is the aural equivalent of a Nicholas Roerich painting, mysterious, evocative, yet self-contained. The first movement of a projected symphony, Olga de Harmann had its first four notes inscribed on her husband’s tombstone. Beginning and ending with portentous fanfares, in between two contrasting ideas alternate: a loping yet skittish dance and a solemn modal processional.

The Concierto Andaluz, as its name implies, is Iberian in inspiration. De Hartmann dedicated it to flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, who premiered the concerto on French Radio National in 1950. The scoring for strings, percussion, celesta, and piano evokes Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936) and it shares Bartok’s abstraction of nationalist musical features. The first movement, Entrada y Romanza, has percussion chugging away until the flute enters. The soloist then relaxes into lyrical cantilena for the rest of the movement. The second movement, Juego or “Game,” is in ABA ternary form. It opens with a quicksilver dance for the flute and strings. The B section is another “eastern” passage – pentatonic in this case – in slower tempo for flute over tubular bells, harp, piano and strings. The quicksilver dance then returns. The two-part finale, Cante y Juerga, consists of another lyrical, improvisatory section for the soloist followed by a “binge” or “spree,” with castanets and virtuoso passagework. A brief section modeled on Andalusian folksong provides further contrast before the energetic conclusion.

The album concludes with Une fête en Ukraine, another suite for orchestra. Once again returning to his Ukrainian roots, de Hartmann arranged this work from an earlier one-act ballet of the same name. Its original scenario concerned a celebration honoring Catherine the Great during her travels to Crimea in 1787. Actual court intrigue provided the dramatic action – Catherine’s secret lover dances with a local princess at the feast. Enraged by this perceived betrayal, Catherine commands the pair marry immediately, and then banishes both from her presence forevermore.

The suite is purely celebratory, however, and a substantial piece of music. Many of its movements are period-appropriate dance suite items: an Overture, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gavotte. Others are historically specific Russian dances, with names like Matradour, Canari, and Danilo Couper. This last is an adaptation of on an English dance, the “Daniel Cooper,” popular in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. There is also an “Incantation and Dance of the Shaman.”

In similar fashion to the Koliadky suite, de Hartmann’s music original melodies and dances sound almost stereotypically Russian, with nearly every phrase ending with a descending fourth interval, the most typical fingerprint of traditional Russian music – think the Volga Boat Song. De Hartmann often doubles musical lines within the orchestra, creating a concentrated, sumptuous sound. The combination is similar to Glazunov or other composers of the Russian Silver Age, a middle ground between the intense nationalism of Mussorgsky, Borodin, or Rimsky-Korsakov and the often more Western outlook of Tchaikovsky.

Theodore Kuchar leads the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine in confident, stylish performances. Flautist Bülent Evcil sounds alternately poised and relaxed in the Concierto Andaluz. Balances between soloist and orchestra, as well as within the orchestra, are clear, with no details getting lost. The recorded sound is very close though not airless. The effect is either of being on the podium or the orchestra being in the listener’s lap, depending on one’s perspective.

This recording came after a multiday festival in the fall of 2021 titled “Thomas de Hartmann in Ukraine – A Forgotten Master.” The performance and recording of a Ukrainian emigre composer by Ukrainian forces now has an added level of poignancy thanks to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the spring of 2022, still ongoing as I write this review. This album is part of a projected series of orchestral recordings in The Thomas de Hartmann project, an international, multimedia, and multi-label effort by scholars and performers to rediscover, publish, and record the music of Thomas de Hartmann. Three albums of de Hartmann’s chamber music have already been released (review ~ review ~ review ~ review) and one can only hope that the remaining orchestral albums will follow suit. A major and rewarding effort.

Christopher Little

Previous review: Lee Denham

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