Hartmann’s Concerto Funebre

0 of 5 stars

Hartmann
Concerto funebre for violin and string orchestra
Suite No.1 for solo violin
Suite No.2 for solo violin
Sonata No.1 for solo violin
Sonata No.2 for solo violin

Alina Ibragimova (violin)

Britten Sinfonia [Jacqueline Shave, leader]

Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, London – Concerto on 27 November 2006 and solo pieces on 13 & 14 January 2007


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2007
CD No: HYPERION CDA67547
Duration: 81 minutes

I must make a confession. No, nothing the tabloids would be interested in; simply this: that I have huge admiration for the German composer Wolfgang Amadeus Hartmann (1905-63) – especially his eight symphonies – but that his Concerto funebre, for violin and string orchestra, is music that has proved something of a ‘blind spot’ over the years. It is, though, a work that many commentators prize highly, one that has its champions among noted violinists, and a work that has notched up quite a few recordings.

But, first, some words on the two Suites and the two Sonatas – all written in 1927 – that occupy just under an hour of this CD’s length and which total 18 movements in all. This is music of concentration and economy yet capable of opening up vast worlds; music that has as its precedent, of course, Bach Partitas and Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin. Hartmann’s vividly characterised ‘miniatures’ (the word doesn’t do these creations justice) certainly have their Baroque inspiration, but the expression, while formal, has the capacity for suggestion and is certainly pithy and, often, lyrically intense with the same sort of ‘deep root’ that is found in Bartók’s music (his Sonata for Solo Violin was written more than a decade later than Hartmann’s examples).

Hartmann’s invention is consistently inventive – and of real substance – and benefits from Alina Ibragimova’s interpretative focus and technical security: she has clearly taken huge trouble to get inside this music and give performances of insight, dedication and bravura. Each movement emerges as an emotional testimony of Hartmann’s wide-ranging stylistic craft.

Munich-born Hartmann remained in Germany during World War II – but he was no pawn to the Nazis; he was, as Calum MacDonald succinctly puts it in his booklet note, an “internal exile”. Ibragimova and the conductor-less Britten Sinfonia make a very strong case for Concerto funebre (1939, revised in 1959) – certainly the most convincing account this listener has heard (but it may also be that this is my ‘moment’ for discovering the piece and catching up with others’ appreciation of it). Martinů’s contemporaneous Double Concerto (for two string orchestras, piano and timpani) is in a similar expressive orbit – and that is a masterpiece. What impresses with this Hyperion account is how eloquent Hartmann’s music is, how deeply felt it is, and how electrifying the frenetic third movement is – and wonderfully clarified in this performance (the number of orchestral strings seems just about right in its leanness and heft) and how the composer’s emotionalism and rhythmic ingenuity is absorbed into a convincing whole.

This is music with direct connection to the listener. If you don’t know the Concerto (or, indeed, any of the music here – it has taken many decades for the solo-violin works to get even a foothold on the repertoire) then Ibragimova and the Britten Sinfonia’s wild-eyed enthusiasm and musical consideration – superbly recorded – could well be the best way to enter Hartmann’s specific but universal world. A revelation!

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