Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

KARL AMADEUS HARTMANN (1905-1963) Symphony No. 1 (1936 rev 1950) [28:23] Symphony No. 6 (1953) [25:20] Miserae (Symphonic Poem) (1934) [13.15]  Jard van Nes (mezzo) London PO/Leon Botstein rec Jan 1999 Walthamstow Hall, London TELARC CD-80528 [67.54]




I have already written twice about Hartmann, a German composer whose symphonies and other works are beginning to find multiple recordings and recognition. The music combines violence, dissonance and lyricism.

The Wergo set of the complete symphonies is still worth tracking down for performances of zealous advocacy still giving off the intensity of discovery. Those discs (originating from very high quality stereo radio tapes) cannot hope to have the aural finesse delivered by the EMI Metzmacher/Bamberg cycle (rather sumptuously spread across many discs) and certainly cannot aspire to the technical heights achieved by Telarc and their interpreters. While the largely nondescript tone poem Miserae (interesting rather than compelling) hardly registers despite the high expectations raised by dedication to victims of Dachau the remainder (most of the disc) is of very high value.

Botstein clearly feels great conviction for this music and this comes across both in performance and in the booklet text, part of which he contributed. These are eloquent performances directed by a man who clearly sees Hartmann as a natural partner to Shostakovich.

The first symphony sets Whitman texts (in German translation - both English and German are printed in the booklet - though, sadly, not side-by-side) and it is strange to hear them in an atonal (though fundamentally lyrical) context. The first movement of No. 1 in its brass and drums onslaught suggests a chaos of projectiles hurtling out of some abyss. Jard van Nes's singing is outstanding and, surprisingly, had me thinking of Sibelius's Luonnotar. The remainder of the work it is rather like encountering the shades of Holst (especially Saturn) and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Strange maimed creatures shamble through a wasteland of the soul. This is the sombre land where, in Yeats' words, 'the axle breaks'.

Hearing the sixth symphony is rather a nostalgic experience for me. It reminds me of the Fricsay 10" LP of the work given to me during the early 1970s. The symphony is in two movements. The Adagio is something of a slithering bolero with a touch of the sinuous bassoon theme from The Rite. This is disturbed by superheated updrafts from the depths, a desperate lyricism and, at the apex of the movement (8.04), a dire climax of hideously sustained outrage which then subsides into the quieter marches of nightmare. The finale is a crepuscular fugue (at first disconcertingly like Reger) which develops into a hectic rocking roller-coaster juxtaposing jazz and militaristic elements.

Very good notes and superb sound. If I marginally prefer the Berlin Classics collection of symphonies it is because that offers three symphonies (5,6,8) even if its sound quality, though very attractive, cannot match the transparency and impact of the Telarc. The Telarc carries the strongest recommendation for anyone wanting to encounter Hartmann in the very best sound and in performances of white heat inspiration. Hartmann's music can be said to have come of age with this mainstream disc.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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