On Record – Bülent Evcil, Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine / Theodore Kuchar – Thomas de Hartmann: Orchestral Music (Toccata Classics)

Thomas De Hartmann
Koliadky – Noëls Ukrainiens Op.60 (1940)
Une fête en Ukraine Op.62 (1940)
Concierto Andaluz Op.81 (1949)
Symphonie-Poème no.4 Op.90 (1955)

Bülent Evcil (flute), Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine / Theodore Kuchar

Toccata Classics TOCC0633 [65’43″’]
Producer Andriy Mokrytskiy Engineer Oleksii Grytsyshyn
Recorded 11-13 September 2021 at National Philharmonic Hall, Lviv, Ukraine

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its explorations with this release of orchestral music by Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956), his posthumous reputation largely centred on his association with the Armenian philosopher George Gurdjieff but whose own music is well worthy of revival.

What’s the music like?

Although the Noëls Ukrainiens might appear as the descendent of folk-inspired sets by such as Rimsky-Korsakov or Lyadov, de Hartmann seeks rather to evoke the essence of this music than by quoting traditional melodies. The initial Chant spiritual for strings is a pertinent case in point – its textural and expressive restraint characteristic of what follows, notably the more developed final numbers: the chorale-like solemnity of La veille de l’Épiphanie, simmering fervour of Adieu, Koladá and Mussorgskian vigour of Goussak for an effervescent ending.

In his later years de Hartmann tackled the symphonic genre, albeit from a typically personal vantage in his Symphonie-Poèmes. The fourth of these remained unfinished at his death, with only its initial movement fully orchestrated. Over little more than five minutes, it provides a fair encapsulation of the composer’s later thinking – not least through an elaborate and often imaginative orchestration which accentuates formal obliqueness and expressive disjunctions. Intriguing as it is to speculate what came next, this remains a cohesive statement as it stands.

Written for Jean-Pierre Rampal then taken up by equally illustrious flautists such as Marcel Moyse, the Concierto Andaluz packs a considerable amount into its 10 minutes. Whether in the plaintive lyricism of the Entrada y Romanza, the fleet-footed and capricious Scherzino that is Juego – its winsome trio providing for necessary contrast, or the sultry evocation of Cante y Juerga, this is something of a hidden gem from the repertoire of concertante works for flute and deserving of greater exposure. Bülent Evcil leaves no doubt as to his advocacy.

Arranged from an eponymous ballet celebrating Catherine the Great, Une fête en Ukraine is de Hartmann at his most engaging. Not least the festive Ouverture, with its antecedents in the Russian ‘silver age’, or regal eloquence of Fanfare et Sarabande. The final three items are most substantial – the suitably fanciful imaginings of Incantation et danse du Chamane, the plangent modality of Nocturne, then the panache of Danilo Coupor (an English dance popular among Russian nobility in the early 19th century) which brings a scintillating close.

Does it all work?

Pretty much. That all four of these pieces are from de Hartmann’s maturity means that such influences as there were of earlier composers, primarily the melodicism of Tchaikovsky and harmonic innovations of Rimsky, have been subsumed into a more astringent while always eventful idiom. Both the shorter pieces would make attractive additions to a concert, and the larger collections each feature several items that are worth encountering in their own right – maybe as encores to round-off a programme from one of the more enterprising orchestras.

Is it recommended?

Yes, not least with the Lviv National Philharmonic giving of its best under the astute direction of Theodore Kuchar. Unexceptionally fine sound, with exceptionally detailed annotations from John R. Mangan and Evan A. MacCarthy. A follow-up volume of de Hartmann is imminent.

For more information on this release, and for purchase options, head to the Toccata Classics website. More on Thomas de Hartmann can be found here – while you can click on the artist names for more on Bülent Evcil, Theodore Kuchar and the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine