THOMAS DE HARTMANN (1885-1956): Symphonie-Poème No. 3, Op. 85, Piano Concerto, Op. 61, Scherzo fantastique, Op. 25.

Catalogue Number: 07Y001

Label: Nimbus

Reference: NI6429

Format: CD

Price: $18.98

Description: If we start from the premise that de Hartmann was the last of the great Russian Romantics, rather than the disciple and musical amanuensis of the mystic, Gurdjieff, then it is far easier to arrive at a true appreciation of his musical worth. Born and raised in an aristocratic family in Ukraine, and prodigiously gifted from an early age, he studied with Arensky and Taneyev, broadened his artistic horizons in Germany, and enjoyed considerable early success in Russia. Variously displaced by the Russian Revolution, his nomadic life with the Gurdjieff cult, and later by the Nazis' invasion of France, he became a polyglot composer, drawing heavily on the Romanticism of his youth, combined at various times and to varying degrees with Impressionism, music of the East, modernism and bitonality, jazz and blues, and the lush neo-romantic style of film music, as reflected in his sumptuous orchestration. The 1939 Piano Concerto is an extravagant virtuoso showpiece, grandiose and hyper-romantic in conception, affording almost incessant opportunities for pianistic display. The piece plays continuously for just under half an hour; it contains three cadenzas, and is episodically structured in short contrasting sections. The mid-1930s to 40s were a time of prolific production for the composer, in which he brought together many of the influences that he had amassed during his career to date, hence the pre-polystylistic language of this work. In the first main section, Gershwin rubs shoulders with Ravel and Debussy; bell effects and exotic melodic contours point to music of the East; here and there there seem to be a whiff of Grainger, or the Stravinsky ballets - who knows who de Hartmann might have had a chance to hear on his peregrinations around Europe? This is clearly differentiated from the second "movement", a superbly constructed sentimental Rachmaninov pastiche (paging Mr Addisell …) with a lively Prokofiev-lite second part. A cadenza ensues, and the next part takes off in ebullient, jazzy mood, followed by an imposing section of neo-romantic concerti style, referencing a theme from the beginning of the concerto, which takes a serious turn - is that a reference to the Busoni concerto? Could be! - then an episode of "oriental" film music because why not? A scintillating cadenza carries on with the themes from the previous section, then via a jazz transition leads into the final majestic peroration. In the large three-movement Third Symphony, or "Symphonie-Poème", de Hartmann returns to his Russian Romantic roots, enhanced by his sense of cinematically vivid imagery, in music of compelling drama and immersive atmosphere. He affixed a specific programme to the symphony, which illustrates "three ancient legends from the region of the Volga”. The large, slow first movement describes the legend of a kind of mermaid of the swamp, who lures men to a watery doom. Beginning with a beautiful, melancholy, quintessentially Russian theme on clarinets and then sumptuous strings, the music soon transitions into an atmosphere of sinister foreboding, which pervades the entire movement. Biting bitonal dissonances highlight the danger in the oppressive gloom, and the creature's siren song is heard from a solo violin. Increasing in intensity, the music reaches a brief, leaden climax marking the tragic denouement of the tale, then the dark ripples close over the unfortunate victim, and all is still. The second movement is a scherzo diabolico, recounting the legend of a wicked fly that torments and maddens animals, driving them to their death. The fly's theme is an obstinately repeated distorted Russian-style folk tune, and the relentless, hectic energy of the music is highlighted by the vivid orchestration, featuring sinister interjections from piano and organ. The finale concludes the symphony in a mood of joyous celebration, writ large. It illustrates the legend of Radoniza (The Feast of Spring) in orgiastic cinematic folk dances that derive from nineteenth-century Russian tone poems, folk melodies in lush orchestral garb, and balletic Stravinsky. A rapt, solemn coda suggests the sunrise after the night's revelries. The immensely attractive Scherzo fantastique is from 1929, and is effectively a very fine example of the Russian tone poem of the 19th and early 20th century (Balakirev, Liadov, Mussorgsky, Rimsky et al.) For five years following this work, de Hartmann turned to writing film scores, and the booklet notes speculate that this might also have been intended as film music. Passages of the Scherzo bear a close resemblance to Dukas' L'apprenti sorcier - too close to be a coincidence, not close enough to constitute plagiarism! - and the piece has a similar sense of mock-sinister dramatic narrative. Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine; Tian Hui Ng.


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