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Hartmann piano v3 DACOCD 907

Johan Peter Emilius (J.P.E.) HARTMANN (1805-1900)
Piano Works – Volume 3
Sonata in G Minor (1851) [14:29]
Sonatina in G Major (1863) [8:35]
Piano Piece in A Major: "In Springtime" (1847) [1:55]
Sonata in F Major (1854) [24:37]
Piano Pieces from an earlier and a more recent Time, op.74 (pub.1878) [20:37]
Thomas Trondhjem (piano)
rec. Spring 2021, Concert Hall, Holstebro Music School, Denmark

In my review of Volume 2 of this series, I expressed the hope that succeeding issues would have “a little more musical commentary to help the listener.” The present release obliges to a limited extent with a couple of paragraphs of background, but little in the way of detail to help approach these pieces. The text mentions Lothar Brix's thesis Die Klaviermusik von Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann, but this is not easily available to most listeners. I would have welcomed more information about the Sonatas in particular. That said, there is a considerable biographical note about the composer.

Any hermeneutic for appreciating this music, must include Hartmann’s debt to the piano music of Robert Schumann, Stephen Heller, Niels Gade and Felix Mendelssohn. This is not to imply that all his music is derivative; however, it suggests that the innocent ear may think of these composers as responsible for some of these works. To be sure, Hartmann often brings his own magic to this music. It is all worthy of exploration.

This CD opens with the “charming” Sonata in G minor, dating from 1851. It is interesting that the two middle movements are given “picturesque” titles – Song without Words and, more quaintly, Memories of Yore. The finale is a pure delight. There is nothing outstanding here, just attractive music that is diverting and entertaining.

Om Foraaret or "In Springtime" was written in 1847. It is a little miniature that needs no introduction. Its success lies in its innocent simplicity and enthusiasm. The liner notes explain that this short “tone poem” was later recycled as part of the Sonatina’s final movement.

I always wonder if the title Sonatina (a shorter and lighter in character, or technically more elementary, than a typical sonata) is appropriate. Think of Beethoven’s examples; with one or two exceptions they are not a cinch. And then there are the mature and sophisticated models by Maurice Ravel and John Ireland. Hartmann’s Sonatina in G major is not a technical nightmare, but there is a surprising depth to this music that places it a good distance away from any mere didactic intent. It is my favourite work on this disc.

I was disappointed with the big event on this album, the Sonata in F major, dating from 1854. The liner notes, citing the music historian Richard Hove, state that the first movement was “the most fully developed [that] Hartmann had composed.” Another positive quotation was that it is “an unknown pearl in Danish composition.” Further Lothar Brix (op.cit.) stated that “The F major sonata is undoubtably Hartmann’s most successful piano composition. It is a deeply-felt work in the pianistic idiom.” For me, the entire Sonata lacks impact. It seems backward looking in its aesthetics. One cannot help but recall that Franz Liszt’s monumental and ground-breaking Piano Sonata in B minor S.178 was completed in the same year.

The recital concludes with Piano Pieces from an earlier and a more recent Time, op.74 written/collated from between 1851-1877. These contain material recycled from Hartmann’s Sonata in F major. They do not have titles, only key signatures and tempos. They make a good grouping that ought to be heard together. There is a considerable amount of stylistic development in some of these pieces, with the best pushing towards the high romanticism of the late nineteenth century.

The piano playing by Thomas Trondhjem is remarkable, and clearly shows great sympathy and understanding of this neglected repertoire.

As noted above, the booklet (in Danish and English) by Claus Byrith are a (very) slight improvement on the previous two volumes, at least as far as analysis goes. As mentioned, the biographical part is excellent. A brief profile of the soloist is included. The cover is tasteful, with a Copenhagen streetscape by Carl Wilhelm Balsgaard (1812-93).

I refer readers to my earlier review of Volume 1 for an overview of J.P.E. Hartmann’s life and achievement. I am not sure how many more CDs are due to be released in this series: I look forward to the next instalment.

One final word: listen to this disc a sonata or a work at a time, as there is a danger that all this music begins to sound alike. This is no different to approaching a record of piano music by Schumann or Mendelssohn.

John France

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