Hartmann: Symphonies

Author: 
jswain

Hartmann: Symphonies

  • Symphony No. 1, 'Versuch eines Requiem'
  • Symphony No. 3
  • Symphony No. 2, 'Adagio'
  • Symphony No. 4
  • Symphony No. 5, 'Symphonie concertante'
  • Symphony No. 6
  • Symphony No. 7
  • Symphony No. 8
  • Gesangsszene

Stravinsky once remarked that Alban Berg was ''synthetic, in the best sense''—the same could perhaps be said about the German, Karl Amadeus Hartmann. In the 1930s he was beginning to establish a reputation, but was forced to withdraw himself and his works from public musical life as a known opponent of the Nazi regime. During the war he destroyed or radically revised most of his output up till then, and these eight symphonies (five of which are based on, or are revisions of, earlier works) appeared between 1946 and his death in 1963. Together they show his broad sympathies with the twentieth-century masters.
Reviewing the original five-LP set, the case for Hartmann was eloquently advocated by MEO. He wrote of Hartmann's and Germany's upheaval prompting a ''consequent search for continuity and synthesis... throughout the music of the rest of his life''. As Hartmann chose to write symphonies, he had to be mindful of the enormity of the tradition that preceded him, and of the more recent developments that had been condemned by the Nazis. Michael Oliver commented on the presence of Bruckner in the monumental sense of structure, of Reger in the densely chromatic counterpoint, and ''an intense, tortured lyricism derived from Berg''. There is a tribute to the neo-classical Stravinsky in the Fifth Symphony, and more than a hint of Bartok in the irresistible momentum of the fugues that conclude the Sixth. Mahler is present in the Whitman settings of the First Symphony, significantly entitled Attempt at a Requiem; also, in the upheavals of the first movement of the Eighth, the crisis near the end of the Adagio of Mahler's Tenth is vividly recalled (sustained high trumpet, screaming violins). The spectral Funeral March in Webern's Pieces, Op. 6 haunts sections of the First, Third and Eighth Symphonies (Hartmann studied with Webern during the war).
Whether, with Hartmann's synthesis of his models, he managed to forge a demonstrably personal idiom is open to question. It is curious that in his own country he is acclaimed for the revitalization of the Austro-German symphonic tradition, and that here he is allotted a few lines in textbooks most of which refer to him as an eclectic.
Hopefully the reissue of this splendid set will go some way towards redressing the imbalance, because what is indisputable is the power of Hartmann's music to communicate, and its capacity to fascinate as sheer sound. MEO again: ''Much of the music is elegiac, much of it fiercely combat ridden''. A particularly modern Weltangst is encountered in the Gesangszene, a chilling apocalyptic vision to a text by Jean Giraudoux. On the debit side, I have to confess that not all the vigorously contrapuntal sections of the later works avoid sounding academic. Also, Hartmann's over frequent outpourings of tonal and dynamic intensity are often in danger of short-circuiting the listener's sympathy.
The dates of these live recordings are not given, but they are all naturally balanced, with excellent clarity—Hartmann's torrents of tuned percussion are thrillingly captured—and the Munich audience maintains an impressive reverential silence. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra play with polish and evident conviction. The recordings in this set of the Fourth and Eighth Symphonies are different from those that appeared by the same artists on DG in 1968 (and more recently in DG's Collectors series).
A most stimulating and rewarding set that is recommended to anyone interested in the development of the symphony in our century.'

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