Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900)
Piano Works Volume 5
Fantasy in G minor Op.7 (1829)
Six Fantasy Pieces Op.54 (1855)
Two Character Pieces Op.25 (1839)
Grand Waltz in E flat major HartW.63 (1826)
Midsummer’s Waltz in A major (1859)
Slow Waltz in E flat major HartW.82 (1847)
Eight Caprices Op.18 (1835)
Thomas Trondhjem (piano)
rec. 2023, Holstebro Music School and Music Academy, Denmark
Danacord DACOCD968 [79]

Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann’s long life stretched virtually the full range of the 19th century and his compositions, at least the ones I am hearing on this album, sit firmly within its borders. Thomas Trondhjem has been faithfully unearthing his piano works and previous volumes have proved attractive (reviews: Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3 ~ Volume 4).

J.P.E. Hartmann was the son of August Wilhelm Hartmann, an organist at Copenhagen’s Garrison Church and who was himself the son of a musician, Johann Hartmann, a violinist and composer. He was close friends with two famous sons of Danish art, Hans Christian Anderson and the giant of Danish ballet August Bournonville and several works, including two operas and six ballets came out of this friendship. The family’s musical tradition continued with Hartmann’s composer son Emil and his daughter married the composer Niels Gade. The present recital presents music from the first half of his life and includes small scale pieces for domestic rather than concert use; as with works in previous volumes there is a strong influence of Schumann, Mendelssohn and the German tradition. Little is actually said about the piano pieces in the booklet which instead concentrates on his symphonic and operatic music and its place within the artistic growth of the time and the political and economic upheaval which Denmark underwent, especially in the first half of the century. It is nice to have the context but one will seek in vain for any response to outside turmoil in anything here.

The longest work, the eight minute G minor Fantasy opens the recital. The opening timpani rhythm is echoed as a melodic motif in the slow introduction and is occasionally referenced in the faster section. It has elements of the virtuosic writing of Hummel or Moscheles in much of its figuration, unsurprising given its date as is the inspiration of Schubert in the more lyrical passages of the introduction that return part way through the fantasy. Hartmann revised the work for its second publication some six decades after it was first issued and changed the tempo marking from moderato to allegretto;the marking indicated here suggests that Trondhjem plays the revised version. Staying with his early works there is the Grand Vals which seems to be one of his first pieces and if its central section has a military bearing in its chordal and quite pompous manner there is plenty of elegance in its outer sections. It is joined by two more waltzes, the brief slow waltz of 1847 which is from the same stable as the Grand Vals and the Midsummer’s waltz named for the Sankts Hans aften festival celebrated in June; this is a flowing dance, certainly more relaxed than its formal companions and with greater harmonic interest.

The eight Caprices of 1835 were published in Leipzig in two books of four after being introduced by Hartmann on his 1836 tour of Europe. The two books are dedicated to Felix Mendelssohn and Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861) respectively and they were reviewed by Schumann who acknowledged their quality but thought they lacked melodic interest. This is perhaps a little unfair as it is clear that Hartmann seemed more concerned with the ongoing development of initial motifs rather than lyrical expression; the motifs do have their own charm from brusque and comic in the first, flighty in the sweeping arpeggio figures of the second to impish in the scherzo-like fourth. There is lyricism in the seventh, the Canzone, which along with the third and its melody accompanied by running semiquavers, feels like a candidate for Mendelssohn’s Song without words. As with Fantasy the influence of Hummel can be felt in the etude like writing and the memorable staccato scherzo that is the fourth could well be a rondo from the pen of Weber or Hummel. The two Character pieces op.25 were favourably reviewed by Schumann though listening to the first one is struck by its similarity to the first of the caprices – the downward semiquaver figure and trill of that caprice becomes an upward semiquaver figure and trill in op.25 no.1. The piece as a whole is more extended and its vigorous outer sections bookend a beautiful lyrical section. This is reflected in the bucolic and light hearted first section of the F major second piece and while darker clouds make an appearance providing contrast the drama is short lived and the opening music returns with some decoration and more robust in its optimism.

The Fantasy Pieces may borrow from Schumann’s title but pleasant as they are they lack his creative genius and are stylistically not that far removed from the earlier works. They do however have a more mature stamp and are not so obvious in their homage to Hummel and his ilk. Perhaps Schubert can be detected in the stately Canto Marziale Religioso, the third of the set and the skipping, quicksilver fourth shares Schumann’s love of dotted rhythms, here maintained throughout against left hand triplets but it is the stern minuet fifth and the charm of the elegant sixth which impressed me most.

I would echo previous comments to the effect that there is not enough variety here for a single sitting and I have found that the pieces are more enjoyable sampled out of context. Thomas Trondhjem is a skilled performer and brings fluid unmannered playing to these miniatures though I find myself wanting a bit more contrast of dynamics; as an example in the jaunty second fantasy piece Hartmann writes forte to piano four times over the space of eight bars but this is not heard and rhythmically I would question the drum roll repeated notes in the Canto Marziale Religioso in which he misses the fp and play semiquavers rather than demisemiquavers. More attention here and in other places would have brought more contrast to the recital as a whole but this is still an enjoyable collection and a nice addition to this series.

Rob Challinor

Previous review: John France (December 2023)

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