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J.P.E. Hartmann: Piano Works

Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900): Piano Works
John Kersey, piano
RDR CD76

Audio sample: Allegro assai, op 31 no 6

Price: £13.99. Click the button below to purchase this CD securely online.

Total time: 71 minutes 57 seconds

Fantasy Pieces, op 54
1. Allegro poco moderato, pastorale (2’20”) 2. Allegretto capriccioso (2’51”) 3. Allegretto moderato – Canto marziale religioso (2’51”) 4. Allegro molto assai (2’00”) 5. Tempo di Menuetto moderato, con espressione (6’40”) 6. Andantino innocente quasi Allegretto (3’21”)

6 Tone Pieces in Song Form, op 37
7. Allegro agitato grazioso (5’56”) 8. Moderato (4’36”) 9. Allegro assai (3’05”) 10. Allegro moderato vigoroso (2’28”) 11. Allegretto quasi Andantino (3’01”) 12. Vekselsang (1’55”)

13. Bellmanske Billeder: Menuetter (7’46”)

8 Sketches, op 31
14. Allegro non troppo, grazioso (4’08”) 15. Canzonetta (1’39”) 16. Mazurka (1’56”) 17. Scherzo (2’15”) 18. Scherzo (4’04”) 19. Allegro assai (2’09”) 20. Introduction-Allegretto mouvement de valse (3’53”) 21. Allegro passionato assai (2’47”)

Our thanks to Dr Denis Waelbroeck for supplying scores of these rare works.

Notes on the music:
Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann succeeded his father at the Garnisons Kirke in 1824, and thereafter was successively professor at Copenhagen University and the founding director of the Conservatoire there from 1867. His studies in Europe in 1836 brought him into contact with Chopin, Rossini, Cherubini and Spohr. In musical style he successfully fused elements of Nordic nationalism with a post-Mendelssohnian style that at its most progressive clearly looks forward to Brahms. The quality of Hartmann’s inspiration and mastery of compositional and pianistic technique was considerable, and marks him out as the leading Danish composer for the piano of his generation.

This disc reflects Hartmann’s devotion to that most nineteenth-century of piano forms, the set of contrasting miniatures. For Hartmann, as for his predecessors (notably Beethoven), the miniature offers the opportunity to capture a brief mood or atmosphere without the concerns of formal development or the complex extension of structure; indeed where structure is extended, it is by simple episodic means. This distillation of musical inspiration to its essentials enables a rare intensity of experience; at their best, such pieces have the impact of the shorter forms of poetry, reflecting a more improvisatory and free-spirited art than can necessarily be present in the sonata or variations.

There is often much of Mendelssohn to be detected in Hartmann’s music, but with an individual and at times authentically Danish voice (see for example the Vekselsang that concludes op 37). This national feeling perhaps imparts a certain seriousness to his output by comparison with his contemporaries, and if not using actual folksong in his works here, he certainly often takes his inspiration from its contours and characteristic modulations.

The Fantasy Pieces op 54 are dedicated to Clara Schumann, who one feels would have readily appreciated their adventurous and intimate world. Particularly notable is the rhythmic displacement that appears in the second piece, which is both clever and effective. The fifth of the set is a dark Menuetto in A minor which at times bridges the gap with the waltz. Hartmann’s interest in the minuet, often considered antiquated by his contemporaries, can also be seen in the Bellmanske Billeder, an unusual set of two linked minuets with a virtuoso introduction, published without an opus number.

The title “Tone Pieces in Song Form” given to the set op 37 is surely a conscious reminiscence of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” of which the first piece could very easily be a continuation given its typical Mendelssohnian texture and melodic appeal. The set features a dramatic “hunting scene” as its third piece, and in its successor turns to a very Schumannesque narrative idea, answered in the last bars by a bluff “Chorus”. The ensuing Allegretto quasi Andantino flows amid complex double-note figuration, reminding us of Hartmann’s abilities in counterpoint.

The Eight Sketches op 31 date from 1842, by which time Hartmann was firmly established at the forefront of the Danish musical scene. They are notable for their pair of contrasting Scherzos that juxtapose enthusiasm and calmer polyphony. Older forms are suggested with the gigue-like movement that forms the sixth piece before the set concludes with a waltz and a fast-moving caprice in the minor.

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We live in an age of mysteries. The omnipresence of today’s recordings of classical music, many of which are of little-known repertoire, might lead us to believe that there is little left of the past to discover. Yet we have only to move back in time by a little over a hundred years to find the ghosts of a forgotten Romanticism waiting to be reanimated and to present to us an aesthetic very different from that of our own age. This was the era when the piano was at the centre of musical life; at the heart of the home and at the crux of the conception of the Romantic as artist.

Romantic Discoveries Recordings seeks to present innovative world première recordings informed by extensive research into the performance history of the Romantic era, and recorded in a natural ambience evoking the acoustic of the typical Romantic salon. These are not intended to be audiophile releases; instead, they are interpretatively faithful performances that aim at an honest, direct and sympathetic portrayal of music that is being introduced to the listener for the first time.

“His catalogue represents a huge contribution to the recorded repertoire of piano music by romantic unsungs…I have several of these CDs now and I must pay tribute not only to Kersey’s advocacy but also to his pianism. He has a fine technique but isn’t showy and he lets the music speak for itself. There’s something very appealing about this self-effacing, honest approach.”
Mark Thomas, The Joachim Raff Society

“A great feast for the Beethoven connoisseur” (of CD19)
James Green, author, The New Hess Catalog of Beethoven’s Works

“A true and nowadays unique artist, a pianist who has discovered a quantity of really unsung and memorable piano music…In my view, it is at the moment the most remarkable serial of unsung piano music of a high level, so not “lovely pieces” from days gone by, but the ambitious search for original and lasting works.”
Dr. Klaus Tischendorf, Burgmueller.com

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