Thomas Alexandrovich de HARTMANN (1885-1956)
Koliadky: Noëls Ukraniniens Op. 60 (1940) [17:17]
Symphonie-Poème No. 4 Op. 90 (1955) [5:31]
Concierto Andaluz for solo 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. September 2021, National Philharmonic Hall, Lviv, Ukraine
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0633 [65:55]
This is a perfect example of projects which small companies do so well, and which the large multinationals seem to have abandoned. Here are first recordings of the music of a nearly forgotten tonal composer who experienced early success, but whose life was significantly and adversely affected by two world wars and the Soviet revolution. On this showing of works from his maturity, he had his own voice and the orchestral mastery to match. Toccata Classics have done us a service.
Thomas de Hartmann, of Russian aristocratic stock, was born in Khoruzhivka. It is a village in what is now North-Eastern Ukraine, about 190 miles from Kyiv and 20 miles from the present Russian border. (At the time of writing, in early April, it seems likely to be under Russian occupation.) The young man showed an early musical ability. At twelve, he became a student of Arensky and later Taneyev. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Imperial Conservatoire in 1908. Such was his talent that the Czar granted him permission to defer military service to continue musical studies, and he immediately departed for Munich to study under Felix Mottl. He rapidly fell into the artistic milieu in Germany, and was particularly inspired by the art of Kandinsky, who also lived in Munich at the time. An artistic collaboration ensued: de Hartmann wrote music to Kandinsky’s dramatic scenarios.
Just before the outbreak of war, de Hartmann married Olga Schumacher (1885-1979), the daughter of a senior Russian Government dignitary. When revolution hit Russia, they fled for Tbilisi, where an old friend, Alexander Tcherepnin, offered de Hartmann a post at the local conservatory. In 1920 they moved to Constantinople, a year later, just before the Turkish Revolution, to Berlin, and in 1922 to Paris. Their financial situation was somewhat precarious, but de Hartmann taught and was retained by Belaieff Editions. The Nazi occupation of France forced the de Hartmanns to move again, but this did not affect his compositional activity. Finally, in 1950 they moved to New York. After he died suddenly of a heart attack, his wife devoted the rest of her long life to promoting his music.
The first piece here, Koliadky, is a suite of orchestral Christmas carols. These are not transcriptions of Ukrainian tunes but de Hartmann’s original depictions of folk creativity. The nine sections of between 1 minute to 3½ minutes are notable for the rich variation of instrumentation and style, ranging from the stately and serious to incessant motivic clamour. Stylistically, the best match I can think of is Prokofiev. That also applies to the other works here, although de Hartmann is far from a Prokofiev imitator. He does not appear to have Prokofiev’s melodic gift, but who knows what might be revealed in his earlier works.
Next comes the short Symphonie-Poème No.4, de Hartmann’s last completed orchestral work. The booklet a little confusingly refer to it first as the opening movement of a fourth symphony, and later as a fragment, but then quote the composer saying he had finished his 4th Symphony and was engaged on the orchestration. He said that there was something of Dostoevsky in it: “Sorrow gambols, sorrow dances, sorrow sings and sings its song.” It does inhabit a serious and even portentous sound world. The memorable opening bars feel quite threatening. It is easily the most modern-sounding piece here, but it does not fall into atonality.
The next piece, a little surprisingly, is an Andalusian flute concerto. It is scored for strings, percussion, piano and celesta, and the frequent use of pizzicato strings and the harp adds to the overall percussive sound. Just listen to the opening Entrada y romanza for timpani, castanets, tambourine, xylophone, harp, piano and pizzicato strings. I rather wish that the composer had allowed the flute to sing more. To my ears, there is an excess of energetic virtuoso display. Only rarely do we hear any cantabile passages, such as a brief episode in the second movement, juego, where rapturous scoring for the flute, tubular bells, harp, piano and strings, sounds slightly oriental. The work had a successful premiere in France, given by Jean-Pierre Rampal, and the composer’s chamber version was played in New York in 1952, 1953 and 1958.
The last and longest work is the eleven-movement Suite for Large Orchestra from 1940. This arrangement of an earlier one-act ballet centres on the celebrations for the 1787 visit of Catherine the Great to the Crimea. Some movements bear familiar titles, like Allemande, Courant or Sarabande but there also are Matradour, Canari and Danilo Coupor (Daniel Cooper, an English dance form popular amongst the Russian nobility during the Napoleonic wars). The composer said that the suite brings together European forms and “fanciful folklore”, but “absolutely has the Russian spirit”. As expected, there is rich and varied instrumentation of this largely festive and joyous music, with some contrasting sombre moments as in the Sarabande marked Largo con lament. It is an enjoyable work, but it lacks that last ounce of memorability.
All in all, this most welcome disk will be of considerable interest to those of us who love to investigate the byways of the music of the late 19th and early 20th Century. The booklet has immensely detailed biographical data, including much information (which I omitted here) on the de Hartmanns’ critical and inspiring relationship with the mystic philosopher George Gurdjieff. The orchestra play well, and Theodore Kuchar conducts spirited, finely recorded performances.
Previous reviews: Lee Denham ~ Christopher Little