Front Page News

8 posts

Benefit Concert

The Thomas de Hartmann Project helps organize and co-sponsor EVENING For UKRAINE on May 25, 2022- which includes a lecture and an orchestral concert of Ukrainian music. See the press release.

MusicWeb International

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.

Jim Westhead

MusicWeb International

Thomas de HARTMANN (1885-1956)
Orchestral Music
Koliadky: Noëls Ukrainiens, Op. 60 [17:17]
Symphonie-Poème No. 4, Op. 90 [5:31]
Concierto Andaluz, Op. 81 [10:13]
Une fête en Ukraine, Op. 62 [32:53]
Bülent Evcil (flute, Concierto Andaluz)
Lviv National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Theodore Kuchar
rec. 11-13 September 2021, National Philharmonic Hall, Lviv, Ukraine
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0633 [65:55]

I’m sure there must be many readers of MWI who feel that music is often valedictory, sometimes transcendental and even, occasionally, prophetic. The Ukrainian composer Thomas de Hartman’s Violin Concerto was premiered in Paris in 1947; it is a piece where the composer asks the listener to better understand his music by imagining the ghost of a celebrated violinist wandering by night through the war-devastated Ukrainian Steppes. That this disc under review arrived some 75 years later, featuring the music of this same Ukrainian composer, performed by a major Ukrainian orchestra, whilst Ukraine herself is unaccountably being devasted by war, may give pause for thought to more people than just me.

De Hartmann – not to be confused with Karl Amadeus Hartmann – was born in 1885 in Khoruzhivka, now northern Ukraine, into a Russian aristocratic family. The family wealth allowed him the freedom to pursue his passion and study music and he could count amongst his teachers such Russian greats as Arensky, Taneyev and Rimsky Korsakov. In 1906, at 21 years of age, his four-Act ballet was performed at both the Imperial Opera Houses of Moscow and St Petersburg with Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova and Michel Fokine, no less, dancing the principal roles; he was, at that time, one of the best-known living composers in the whole of Russia. However, the explosive early trajectory of his career appears to have been permanently derailed first by his being recalled at the start of the First World War in 1914 from Munich, where he was studying with Felix Mottl, to serve as an army officer, before the Russian Revolution three years later forced him, as a member of the aristocracy, to flee Russia with his wife to Tbilisi the capital of Georgia which, at the time, was an independent Republic. There, an affiliation with the cult of the Russian mystic/philosopher George Gurdjieff followed, resulting in the composer living at various times in Constantinople, Berlin and Paris after which, having had to flee the Nazis, he finally ended up in New York after the war. This constant relocation could go some way to explaining how his music, which includes four symphonies, several operas and ballets, concertos, sonatas and songs, never quite gained a foothold either locally, or in the wider repertoire, even though it was championed by significant musicians of the time, such as Leopold Stokowski, Serge Koussevistsky, Pablo Casals, Paul Tortelier and Jean-Pierre Rampal. Instead, he was forced to make a living from writing film scores, of which there are over fifty. The debut concert dedicated to his music planned in New York in 1956 sums up everything: the composer – perhaps on the cusp of belated recognition – died of a heart attack at the start of the rehearsals.

Half a century after his death, the Thomas de Hartmann Project was set up as a major initiative to recover and re-evaluate his musical legacy. Some of the earlier issues of his solo piano music have already been released (on Nimbus) and reviewed here on MWI and happily, this disc of orchestral works is also a result of the project. Much appreciation and acknowledgement therefore should be given to Toccata Classics for stepping up to give us, the listeners, the chance to judge for ourselves the merits of his orchestral music in these premiere recordings.

Of course, at this time of writing in early 2022, with the unimaginable tragedy that is currently unfolding in Ukraine, I dearly hoped that we could enjoy listening and reviewing a disc dedicated to a hitherto unknown Ukrainian composer, performed by a Ukrainian orchestra – and I am happy to report that very little effort was required to sit back and do just that. If the aforementioned Violin Concerto is not included in this particular release, we are instead presented with a ballet suite, a flute concerto, a symphonic poem, plus a collection of Christmas music, all of which reveals de Hartmann carrying the flame of the more central Russian musical tradition set by his teachers Arensky and Rimsky Korsakov, which was also followed by the likes of Glazunov, Khachaturian and Rachmaninov, rather than the more different, but still recognisably Russian, paths chosen by the enfants terribles Stravinsky and Prokofiev, or the greyer, more obviously Soviet-repressed style of Shostakovich. All the music on this release is hugely approachable, richly scored, colourful and melodic with perhaps a more cosmopolitan flavour than that of the other composers mentioned, reflecting the more diverse cultures de Hartmann experienced during his lifetime.

I started by listening to the longest piece, the ballet suite Une fête en Ukraine from 1940 and based on Catherine the Great. The overture opens with terrific horn fanfares and a rich, glittering orchestral response which at once evokes the theatre – right from the opening bars, you can practically smell the grease-paint and sense the corps de ballet waiting impatiently in the wings for the action to start. Any listener who appreciates the scores of Glazunov’s Raymonda or The Seasons would easily recognise the idiom and find much to appreciate, as well as enjoy, here, and if, perhaps, the music doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev in their own ballets in the grand Russian tradition, then that is only because few others – if any – do either.

Very different in scale, but no less memorable, is the suite Koliadky: Noëls Ukrainiens from 1940 which opens this release and is a collection of nine musical numbers, none of which lasts for much more than three minutes, tand which the composer described as “charming reminiscences of past times” celebrating the tradition of singing koliadky (carols) on Christmas Eve – something that was ended by the strictly secular Soviet state. Each number is scored for a different group of instrumentalists, with only the final one being for full orchestra, and between them they encompass all the wonder and mystery of the Nativity, as well as the joy of Christmas.

The ten-minute Concierto Andaluz, written in 1949 for Jean-Pierre Rampal, no less, and scored for solo flute, strings and percussion, differs markedly from Bartók’s similarly named and scored composition with its shimmering Iberian colours and warmth, shows how de Hartmann’s composing style was no doubt influenced by the various international locations where he lived during various stages of his life. Here, the combination of imaginative orchestration shot through with the heat of Spain results in a highly enjoyable piece of music; I only wished it lasted longer than the all-too-brief time the composer allows.

The final piece on this disc, the Symphonie-Poème from1955, might eventually have been the opening movement of de Hartmann’s Fourth Symphony had he not died the following year, although one suspects that this busy, five-minute piece might have been expanded somewhat if it had. There is more than a hint of Prokofiev in the muscular-sounding orchestration and maybe the highest compliment I can pay is that I wondered where a four-movement symphonic journey would have ended after such an auspicious beginning. Olga de Hartmann, the composer’s devoted wife, considered the music to be so significant that she had the first four notes of the work inscribed upon her husband’s tombstone. It is indeed rich in promise if, sadly, too short-lived to deliver anything genuinely substantial.

Toccata Music not only gives us over an hour of music here on this disc, but does everyone proud with the excellence of the presentation too – the release is available on CD or download (mp3/FLAC/ HD WAV) with a 25-page booklet containing extensive background notes on the composer and performers (that can also be downloaded as a separate pdf file). The sound is rich and full, and the music-making under the conductor Theodore Kuchar and the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, as well as the excellent flautist Bulent Evcil in the concerto, is as committed and persuasive as anyone could wish for. Apparently, there are more orchestral discs to be released from the same sources of music by the same composer and I, for one, cannot wait to hear them, as all the music on this disc is highly distinctive and hugely enjoyable. Meantime, the present release is recommended with much enthusiasm as is, at long last, the music of Thomas de Hartmann in general.

Lee Denham

Fabulous de Hartmann Premieres on Toccata from Kuchar and the Lviv Philharmonic

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956) is best known today for the series of piano pieces he transcribed/composed in partnership with the Armenian mystic and general whack-job George Gurdjieff, but on evidence here he was a composer of considerable talent. The four pieces offered on this splendidly performed and engineered disc are all premieres, part of a larger project to records all of his major works on a variety of labels. The songs, chamber and (non-Gurdjieff) piano work have already appeared on Nimbus, and at time of writing this review three discs of orchestral music are “in the can.” That’s a very lucky thing, because conductor Theodore Kuchar was forced to flee Lviv just days ago due to Russia’s insane invasion of Ukraine, and God only knows what will happen to the city and its fine orchestra, which is scheduled to tour the US in February, 2023. We can only pray for their safety.

Koliadky is a suite of nine imaginary Ukrainian Christmas carols scored for various instrumental combinations, with the last of them, Goussak, employing the entire orchestra for the first time. The music is simply exquisite: haunting and unforgettable in its purity and simplicity. It may sound like folk music, but it really isn’t. Rather Hartmann was channeling his inner Ukrainian with unflagging sensitivity and grace (like Prokofiev, he was born in what is now Ukraine, and he obviously identified with that part of the world quite deeply). Symphonie-Poème No. 4 is all that we have of his projected Fourth Symphony. A single movement a bit over five minutes long dating from 1955, just before his death, it’s a wonderfully bold, colorful orchestral extravaganza that whets the appetite for the earlier “symphonies-poèms,” the first of which lasts over 66 minutes and ought to be quite something (or so I’m told). It’s been recorded by these forces and hopefully we’ll have a chance to hear it soon.

The Concierto Andaluz, for flute, strings and percussion, is a brief piece in three short movements written for Jean-Pièrre Rampal in 1949. I love this Spanish-flavored stuff, and at a mere ten minutes for the whole shebang it really leaves you wanting more. Turkish flutist Bülent Evcil does an excellent job in capturing the music’s high spirits and exotic lyricism, while Kuchar’s accompaniments are by turns sensitive and swaggering. Finally, we have a very substantial (33 minute) ballet suite from the quasi-neoclassical Une fête en Ukraine, a series of dances that starts as if it wants to be baroque, but quickly journeys farther afield. I mean, how many baroque dance suites include an “Incantation and Dance of the Shaman?” The seven-minute overture is the largest single movement on the disc, and really does whet the appetite for Hartmann’s works in larger forms.

I have no hesitation in regarding this release as one of the great discoveries of recent years. Thomas de Hartmann was the real deal. If you can’t find the disc from the usual online culprits, you can get it directly from the Toccata Classics website (https://toccataclassics.com/shop/recordings/). Don’t miss it!