Endnotes, August 2022
In this edition: orchestral music by Thomas de Hartmann, reviewed by Stuart Millson
The enterprising Nimbus Alliance label, which brings dedicated CD buyers out-of-the-ordinary repertoire, herewith presents the music of Thomas de Hartmann, played by the Lviv National Orchestra of Ukraine, under the baton of promising young conductor Tian Hui Ng. A Ukrainian-born Russian aristocrat, de Hartmann (1884-1956) attended St. Petersburg’s military academy, at which his musical talent was recognised. Under the tutelage of composer Anton Arensky, the young musician began to absorb the Russian romantic “imperial” genre of his native land – his first great success being a ballet, which attracted the interest and participation of Nijinsky, Fokine and Pavlova. Soon, de Hartmann became absorbed in a more cosmopolitan European culture and a collaborative friendship was struck with Kandinsky, but the Bolshevik Revolution forced the aspiring young composer to seek sanctuary in France.
The first work on the CD – the Piano Concerto – dates from 1939, the year in which de Hartmann’s adopted country stood on the precipice of war and invasion; and yet in much of the concerto, there is a sense of a peaceful, thoughtful private conversation between the soloist and orchestra – although a spiky, jazz-infused, Prokofiev-sounding spirit also manifests itself in the work. A striking, galvanising conclusion to the piece puts one in mind of the startling monoliths of brass which you might find in a Respighi tone-poem, or even in Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony – although there is no evidence to suggest that de Hartmann responded to either style.
What is certain, however, is the absolute mastery of the de Hartmann’s Piano Concerto by pianist Elan Sicroff – an artist who has dedicated much of his musical life to this avant-garde Russian neo-Romantic, after having been introduced to his works in the 1970s by the composer’s widow, Olga. Sicroff is the veritable custodian and curator of an entirely overlooked segment of Russian-Ukrainian music. Listeners will immediately respond to the light and shade of the pianist’s style; his academic grasp of detail, but also his willingness to let de Hartmann’s colour and invention take flight.
The CD also features the Scherzo-fantastique of 1929 (de Hartmann’s Op. 25) and the Symphonie-Poeme No. 3, Op. 85, which dates from the last years of the composer’s life, which, like his fellow countryman Rachmaninov, were spent in the United States. Both works have the colour of Stravinsky and all the big-boned characteristics of true Russian orchestral music – maybe with a hint of 20th-century ‘Technicolor’. Championed by the talented young conductor, Tian Hui Ng, whose credits include the Pioneer Valley Symphony Orchestra and the New England Philharmonic Orchestra – plus Belgium’s Royal Opera of Wallonie, de Hartmann has been brought closer to the mainstream. We earnestly hope that this new CD will attract the attention of other conductors, soloists and concert promoters.
Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review
CD details: Piano Concerto and orchestral works by de Hartmann. Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Tian Hui Ng. Piano soloist: Elan Sicroff. Nimbus Alliance, catalogue number: NI 6429