Hartmann Orchestral Works

Lively accounts of two unfamiliar masterworks and one modern classic

Author: 
Guy Rickards

Hartmann Orchestral Works

  • Concerto for Piano, Winds and Percussion
  • Concerto funèbre
  • Symphonic Hymns

The Concerto funebre (1939, rev 1959) has fared better on disc than any other Hartmann work, even the Sixth Symphony. Its powerful inner message of grief and protest at the encroachment of tyranny across Europe, underscored by the quotation of a revolutionary song and a Hussite chorale, gives it an immediacy that is compelling, although its directness of idiom is untypical for the composer. Schneiderhan was one of the first violinists to take it up after the war and this 1973 archival account is utterly gripping.

Maria Bergmann’s connection to the Piano Concerto (1953) is closer still as she premiered the work, and this 1972 performance shows no diminution in her advocacy of one of Hartmann’s knottier scores. The initially Stravinskian tone, reinforced by the restricted wind orchestral ensemble (no oboes or horns), gives way to a more complex sound world, built partly from Blacher’s variable metres. Compact to a fault, it requires repeated hearings to unlock its many subtleties but rewards patience. Bergmann’s pianism shows total commitment, matched by Kubelík’s inch-perfect accompaniment.

Kubelík is at his best, however, in the Symphonic Hymns (1941-42). This kaleidoscopic score was composed during Hartmann’s studies with Webern but there is nothing of the Austrian’s super-economy of idiom. Rather, the music bursts forth in the initial Fantasia and concluding Toccata, expressive perhaps of his joy at having found someone he could really talk music with. Scored for large orchestra, this is the nearest Hartmann came to a sinfonietta with a roof-raising climax that sounds tremendous in this, its belated 1975 premiere. Rich sound from Orfeo makes this a winner.

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