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T Hartmann: Songs

Claron McFadden, Nina Lejderman (soprano), Elan Sicroff (piano) (Nimbus)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

T Hartmann
Romances, Op. 5; Take a Wreath of My Verses; To The Moon; Bulgarian Songs, etc
Claron McFadden, Nina Lejderman (soprano), Elan Sicroff (piano)
Nimbus NI 6413   76:29 mins

There are appealing discoveries among these songs by the 20th-century composer Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956). He studied in St Petersburg and Munich, where he befriended the painter Wassily Kandinsky and the dancer Alexander Sacharoff; the three men enjoyed all-night improvisation sessions. Later, he became a devotee of the mystic Gurdjieff, following him to Tbilisi, where he carried out ‘spiritual labour’ and ‘sacred gymnastics’, as the liner notes reveal.

Nina Lejderman, Claron McFadden and Elan Sicroff have tackled the considerable demands of these songs with commitment. Nevertheless, I could do with greater extremes of dynamics, range of colour and layering of sound to lift the weighty, densely written structures off the page. A longstanding champion of de Hartmann, Sicroff navigates the seas of notes with effective, if slightly prosaic, results.

Sometimes I longed for a fuller tone from Lejderman to suit the late-Romantic harmonies and passionate texts, although ‘The Green Forest’ from the Bulgarian Songs is heart-breakingly restrained. The more unhinged harmonies of ‘Vision of Pushkin’ suit Lejderman’s cool style much better.

The over-written Three Poems by Shelley are heroically sung by McFadden. She also throws herself into the delightfully strange ‘Six Commentaries’ from Ulysses, though even they outstay their welcome. The real treat is the 1937 cycle A Poet’s Love; Pushkin’s gorgeous words shine through the more transparent textures. The recital ends with an unexpected vocal quartet, La Tramuntana.

The booklet – essential in this case – frustratingly lacks original texts alongside the translations, and the recording could use a more polished sound. Still, a worthwhile discovery.

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Natasha Loges