Cellist Matt Haimovitz, the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and its chief conductor Dennis Russell Davies present the first commercial recording of Ukrainian unsung composer Thomas de Hartmann’s cello concerto. De Hartmann was an important compositional voice in his own time, connected to the greatest musicians and artists of his era, but has sunk into oblivion after his death in 1956. This EP release is part of the greater Thomas de Hartmann Project (www.thomasdehartmannproject.com), aimed to reintroduce his colourful and compelling music.
The cello concerto was composed in 1935 and premiered in 1938 in Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky. Simultaneously, it is the first episode of a series of cello concerto EPs performed by Matt Haimovitz, produced by Oxingale and appearing on Pentatone. The concerto was inspired by the anxiety of the 1930s, linking the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany to de Hartmann’s own recollections of local Jewish folk musicians. While not being Jewish himself, de Hartmann felt a strong connection to Jewish traditions, and the piece is deeply influenced by Jewish musical folklore, as well Eastern-European folk traditions. This glowing and cinematic work, dedicated to and premiered by Paul Tortelier and hailed by Pablo Casals, is a hidden gem within the cello concerto repertoire, and the war in Ukraine makes a reintroduction of this glorious piece timelier than ever.
This is the first episode of a series of cello concerto EPs performed by Matt Haimovitz, produced by Oxingale and appearing on Pentatone.
“I, like many, am horrified by the cycles of history. Once again we find ourselves in the midst of a tumultuous war in Europe, with Ukraine at the heart of an existential struggle. Ukrainian-born composer Thomas de Hartmann identified closely with his homeland, and, although not Jewish, since his youth, was deeply affected by Jewish music and culture… Throughout his Cello Concerto Op. 57 (1935), de Hartmann’s expansive melodies, progressive form, rich chromatic harmonies, and the virtuosic cello in colorful dialogue with the orchestra, transcend the stifling oppression of the 1930’s. De Hartmann embraces the power of humanity to endure. The concerto’s opening movement begins with grand cinematic gestures and a sweeping narrative. In the prayerful second movement, the cello channels the voice of a hazan, or Jewish cantor, lifting a cry to the heavens. The work concludes in a celebration of love, imagining Rachel’s dance lighting our way through the darkness.
In 1938, three years after its composition, the great French cellist Paul Tortelier gave the world premiere of de Hartmann’s Cello Concerto with the Boston Symphony, with which Tortelier was the principal cellist. Tortelier performed the work a few more times, and the legendary cellist Pablo Casals took note of the work, communicating his enthusiasm in a letter to de Hartmann. However, since the last performance in 1952 the concerto has remained obscure to the world.
Almost seventy years later, Efrem Marder, the Thomas de Hartmann Project Orchestral Director passionate about recovering the music, brought the Cello Concerto to my attention. In September 2021, I was scheduled to record the concerto in Lviv, Ukraine with the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine and Maestro Theodore Kuchar, but the pandemic intervened and the recording fell through. When war broke out in Ukraine in February 2022, the advocacy of Thomas de Hartmann’s music took on a new urgency. In June of that year I was scheduled to perform and record a different work with Maestro Dennis Russell Davies and the MDR Orchestra at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany. Weeks before the recording date, the members of the orchestra and administration demonstrated their total solidarity with the people of Ukraine: the decision was made to change the program and instead make a live recording of the de Hartmann concerto.
This noteworthy work is a Ukrainian treasure, a significant contribution to the cello works of its time. Deep gratitude goes out to my friend and colleague, Maestro Dennis Russell Davies, and the MDR Orchestra, for joining me in celebrating and bringing to the world the marginalized, majestic de Hartmann Cello Concerto.” (MATT HAIMOVITZ)Matt Haimovitz
Digital Release Date: 29 SEPTEMBER 2023
Released in digital formats for streaming and high-resolution downloads.