The Chamber Music of Thomas de Hartmann

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The series of CD releases of the music of Thomas de Hartmann is largely the work of The Thomas de Hartmann Project, a group of dedicated volunteers and individuals joined by the common goal of bringing Thomas de Hartmann’s music to public attention. The primary aim of The Thomas de Hartmann Project is to make publicly available the compositions of Thomas de Hartmann; today a music as strangely inaudible as the composer is invisible, outside small groups familiar with de Hartmann's musical collaborations with G.I. Gurdjieff. Robert Fripp

De Hartmann’s output as a composer included four symphonies, several operas, concertos, sonatas, and songs with texts by Marcel Proust, Paul Verlaine, James Joyce, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, as well as fifty-three film scores. By his early twenties he was one of the best-known living composers in all of Russia. His music was enthusiastically supported by performers and conductors such as Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Bigot, Pablo Casals, Paul Tortelier, and Jean-Pierre Rampal. The fragmented path his life was to follow brought him into direct contact with some of the most intriguing personalities of the century. The turbulent historical events through which he lived may, however, have kept de Hartmann’s music from reaching a wider audience. With the de Hartmann papers now widely available for scholarly examination, the opportunity is ripe for a new look at this composer’s unique contributions.




The Thomas de Hartmann Project, with Elan Sicroff as its artistic director and counting Robert Fripp as executive director, was responsible for a substantial set of excellent recordings that appeared around 2016 on the Basta label. These fine performances done with leading musicians are now re-released by Nimbus, and as a collection they are full of discovery and superbly crafted music.

This two CD set of Thomas de Hartmann's chamber music dots around somewhat in terms of dates, but the programme has been put together well with plenty of contrast, and with most of the later works grouped on disc 2… Contrasting darkness and light, dance-like rhythms and eloquently slow music this is a highly appealing collection, and played with finely turned subtlety of colour and phrasing by the excellent Amstel Quartet.

The Sonata for Violoncello and Piano is a more modern affair than the violin sonata, with hints of the kind of stresses and contrasts that can be found in Martinů's cello sonatas. De Hartmann never abandoned his romantic idiom however, and even in the more outspoken outer movements there are plenty of lyrical oases. The central movement is a Tema con variazioni with a lovely prayerful spirit that opens out into a relatively genial and gentle set of variations. The delicious Menuet fantastique is adapted from de Hartmann's Violin Concerto Op. 66, and the Four Dances from Esther are arrangements from an opera he started composing as the Nazis occupied France, the biblical Esther "a symbol and an inspiration for everyone who is trying to save the world from the terror which threatens to engulf all of Europe." The final major work here is the Trio for Flute, Violin and Piano which was commissioned by the renowned Moyse Trio. This is an excellent piece that deserves to be far better known; as full of colour as anything by Ravel, and with little touches of bitonality that might hint at Milhaud or Villa-Lobos. The music is not without its moments of dramatic toughness, but de Hartmann's signature lyricism is never far away and there are some fascinating dialogues and passages of counterpoint. There is jocular humour to be found in a distorted Viennese waltz, and Chopin's 'Funeral March' is also invoked at one point.

 This is a stunning work with which to end this Nimbus introduction to the music of Thomas de Hartmann, and I would urge everyone to find out just how good it all is for themselves.

Music Web International – Classical Review

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