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Hartmann: Concertos - Lintu

Hartmann: Concertos - Lintu

Dacapo Records  6.220511

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Emil Hartmann: Concerto for violin and orchestra in G minor Op. 19, Concerto for cello and orchestra in D minor Op. 26, Concerto for piano and orchestra in F minor Op. 49

Per Salo (piano)
Stanimir Todorov (cello)
Christina Åstrand (violin)
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Hannu Lintu (conductor)


Emil Hartmann (1836-1898) experienced great success when he toured Germany and the rest of Europe conducting his own works, and was often compared to the great Romantic masters of the European musical scene. But at home in Denmark the composer was overshadowed throughout his life by his famous father J.P.E. Hartmann, whose centenary we celebrate this year. The writer Hans Christian Andersen actually said of the two Hartmanns that "old Hartmann is a born composer, young Hartmann was brought up to it."

With Dacapo's new SACD* recording of Emil Hartmann's three concertos - for violin, cello and piano - we can be in no doubt that the fame that "young Hartmann" enjoyed abroad was more than deserved. Here you can listen to three of the finest Danish soloists today expressing themselves in Emil Hartmann's full-blooded Romantic concertos with the special Nordic element that gives the music unusual melodic beauty.

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Review by John Miller - October 6, 2016

Emil Hartmann (1836 - 1898) was born into a very musical family in Copenhagen. Of German origin, Emil's father Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann became a famous musician in Denmark, his ballets and symphonies in particular also appeared elsewhere in Europe. It is also worth noting that his brother-in-law was the very popular Niels Gade, considered at the time to be the most popular Romantic composer of Denmark.

Of course, Emil got his first musical education from his eminent father JPE and brother-in-law Niels Gade. They urged him to compose at an early stage. Next, he studied at the University of Copenhagen, where in 1858, he and August Winding (a co-student) were tasked to compose music for August Bournonville's ballet 'Fjeldstuen' (The Mountain Hut), much praised for its reflection of Nordic country and delights.

Emil and August (who later became part of the Hartmann family) next went on tour to Paris, where they surveyed the French version of 'Late Romantic', some aspects of his which were embedded into Emil's later three concertos, together with Germanic (Berlin and Leipzig, Vienna) and Nordic elements. The three concertos (composed from 1876-1890) were greatly admired in Europe, while Danish audiences paid much more attention to his father's more serious works.

The first concerto is for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 19 (1876), and it displays the general features of the trio of concertos, which were reported upon by a staff member of 'Politiken', a Danish journal not usually inclined to praise Emil. He wrote "Finely and ably done, with Emil Hartman's well known suppleness both in the actual conception and in the instrumentation." (The reporter, evidently being at the Piano Concerto performance, goes on) "While in content it is by no means substantial, rather gentle and soft, the piano part, which did not seem to be particularly difficult, is treated with much taste..."

Christina Åstrand (b. 1969) was a Suzuki method follower from the age of 4. She became the leader of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra at the age of 22 and also is soloist for Danish and other orchestras in Europe. She expertly invests her Violin Concerto performance with an overall Autumnal approach, laid back and affectionately caressing the melodic parts while also sparkling with the required virtuosity.

Stanmir Todorov (b. 1967 in Bulgaria), who plays the cello in Op. 49 (1879), began his studies at the Menuhin Music Academy at Gstaad in Switzland. Having left Bulgaria, he went to study with a range of European cellists and is now a much required soloist. He evidently relishes this elegiac piece, unusually architecture. The first movement begins with a rather gentle Nordic dance style which returns three times, interspersed with a lovely rich, slow second melody, varied in presentation each time it appears. Emil's dark, rich orchestration in this concerto is most attractive (the other concerti are also given orchestration fit for their particular requirements). The cello's second movement is unusual and delightful, a prayer-like mournful melody, spread between soloist and wind sections of the orchestra. This tune is very simple, almost child-like, with the obbligato cello adding its thoughtful account, for example as a pizzicato under-layer to the main melody. The final movement, Rondo pastorale, has more Nordic flavours to offer, although perhaps Emil might have added more energy to counteract the first two movements. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed this cello concerto.

Per Salo (b. 1962 in Denmark) is a renowned pianist in Scandinavia, particularly in contemporary music, and he travels world-wide as a premier performer. As with the other soloists, he naturally grasps Emil Hartmann's distinctive style in the Piano Concerto Op. 49 (1890), Emil's last concerto. As with the violin concerto, the progress of the concerto is not to demonstrate the performer's glittering technique, but to give all the instruments chance to excel in calm melodies. The first movement has a bright march-like theme characterised by its dotted crotchet rhythm, followed with a warm romantic slower theme. The "march" theme is repeated in various ways (a habit of Tchaikovsky) either in piano or a group of orchestral instruments. The central Canzona is delightful in many ways. Perhaps Emil was remembering the Canzona of the cello concerto, and the Piano Concerto has a beguiling child-like song floating over a naive pizzicato accompaniment. This is played by Salo with beautiful, relaxing simplicity. Suddenly, however, the boisterous finale leaps in, rondo-like with bold tunes and good humour. As an interesting touch of colour, Emil adds a wonderful cello solo. This movement is well-structured in the Germanic way and some reviewers have claimed the energetic final bars to be Brahmsian, but I'm not convinced. Just before this final section, Per Salo plays Emil's solo cadenza with aplomb, but it is obvious that the cadenza is rather standard.

Sound Engineer and Producer for these concertos is the now legendary Preban Iwan. The recordings were made in September 2003 and August 2004, quite early in the technology and artistry of SACD, which may account for the problems with this recording. The acoustics of the venue, the Helsingborg Konserthus (1932) is the orchestra's "home" and today is regarded as having "fine acoustics". On this SACD, however, 'cavernous' would be my main impression of the Konserthus in multichannel mode. All three soloists are notably set back, seemingly within the orchestra rather before them as usual, this showing particularly for the violin, in its Concerto.

The rear speakers have a low level signal from the back wall, and the front centre relays a general survey of the orchestra from above, not focussing the soloists at all. While there is a good overall sound-picture of an orchestra in a very open acoustic, there is little focussed depth for the orchestra, and I was unable to hear whether the violins were organised as Firsts to the left and Seconds to the right. Violin tone is rather thin on top (this also applies to Christina Åstrand's violin), as well as somewhat dry, i.e. the richer overtones are not well present. The ample lower reverberations are rather more present than expected, so that the booming tympani and trombones are more present than the rest of a tutti. This also affects positively solo Todorov's Cello in the Cello Concerto, with a rich, deep romantic sound bringing the instrument more forward than with the other solos. The solo piano (of what genus we are not told) has clear articulation at the expense of a thinish, somewhat dry resonance.

Turning up the volume in multichannel does help in bringing forward the soloists in their respective concertos, but does not increase focus. In stereo, most of the same acoustic affects occur, but the solos are somewhat more forward, but in a more or less flat-sounding orchestra, despite being in a very reverberant overall space.

The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is in fine fettle, responding very well to Emil Hartmann's artful grouping of various instruments in his scores. Hannu Lintu, the Finnish conductor, is the Principal Conductor of the HSO, and employs his appropriate imaginative interpretation for each of Emil's concertos. These three works are, like many other; little-known and little-recorded, but Emil Hartmann was a composer of his own, and this recording, which gathers all three of his concertos is very handy.

Is it worth purchasing, in the light of an early type of DSD recording? Absolutely! The sound is still very good overall, despite comparisons with Iwan's current superb recordings, and it would be a pity not to hear three fine contributions from the Nordic area of romantic concertos which were sweeping all across Europe just before the end of the century.

Copyright © 2016 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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