THOMAS DE HARTMANN: (1885-1956): Orchestral Music, Volume 2: Symphonie-Poème No. 1, Op. 50, Fantaisie-Concerto for double bass and orchestra, Op. 65. Leon Bosch, double bass, Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, Theodore Kuchar, conductor.
Catalogue Number: 11Y003
Label: Toccata Classics
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. Influences come - literally - from all over the map, but playing the game of "Hey! That sounds a lot like (blank)" is unproductive, because de Hartmann's synthesis of his many styles and enthusiasms is so exuberantly expressed and leads to such immensely enjoyable music that trying to second-guess his inspiration seems churlish at minimum. His first Symphonie-Poème was written in 1934, in France, and is in four movements lasting over an hour. The title is apt, as these works, while liberally painted on a symphonic canvas, are more freely rhapsodic than formally structured. As in the other works bearing this title, the traditional layout of movements is to be found, but within movements the overall structure is quite free, suggesting a symphonic poem more than a symphonic movement. The first movement opens with a dramatic flourish, introducing an extended Largo, which serves as an exposition of the movement’s themes, derived from the opening motifs. These are extensively developed throughout the rest of the movement in tableaux ranging from urgently dramatic to grandly balletic, incorporating several large climaxes, and culminating in an energetic triple fugue. The coda is mysterious and ominous. The spirit of Tchaikovsky looms large over this movement - and even more so the balletic scherzo that follows - and the listener is often likely to be reminded of Khachaturian, though this must surely be a coincidence, as the Armenian was only beginning to achieve recognition around the time of this work. The two are certainly kindred spirits in their love of exuberantly Technicolor orchestration - de Hartmann's large orchestra augmented by piano (four hands), and the velvety timbre of three saxophones - and reluctance to shy away from what some might consider vulgarity (let us not forget the wise words of Percy Grainger: "The world is dying of good taste!"). It could also be that de Hartmann's incorporation of characteristics of Ukrainian folk idioms echoes Khachaturian's use of Georgian and Armenian ones. The scherzo is in ABA' form comprising three sections in triple time; the first suggests an opulent ballroom scene, while the second is more animated, with a sense of desperate pursuit and flight, and of confrontation in an impressive climax. The third section develops the material of the first two. The following Andante begins with a mysterious, tenebrously looming introduction which gives way to a huge martial cortège. Then, with a complete change of texture, a quasi-recitative in folk style, evoking the Ukrainian kobza (a folk instrument in the lute family). The remainder of this gloriously, richly eloquent piece of music is a symphonic slow movement, drawing on Mahler and, especially, Rachmaninov. The finale, described by the composer as a "madly whirling dance" is marked "Allegro feroce" and is notable for its incessant, inexorable momentum, its propulsive energy increasingly veering into the obsessive hyperkinesis of insanity. The 1942 Fantaisie-Concerto was written four years after de Hartmann's Cello Concerto was premiered by Tortelier under Koussevitsky's baton, and pays tribute to the conductor’s previous career as double bass virtuoso noted for his richness of tone. The composer appended a kind of programme note to the score: "In 1838 the Russian composer Mikhail Ivanovitch Glinka spent the summer in his estate in Kochanivka, where he wrote the first sketches of Ruslan and Lyudmila. He was accompanied by his servant, who – playing the contrabass – took part in the improvised ensembles, where the fragments of Ruslan were played. The thought of this devoted servant of the Russian genius, the ambience of the 1830s in a charming Ukrainian countryside, gave the idea for this Concerto". The score abounds in clever references to Ruslan and Lyudmila. The first movement consists of lively exchanges between soloist and orchestra; the second is a bass aria set in a faerie landscape, and the third is genial, rustic, folk dance.