Here are two fine and spirited Early Romantic symphonies from Denmark. Hartmann had a distinguished career that spanned almost the complete nineteenth century - his first symphony was written before Schumann had penned any of his symphonies and he died, an elder statesman of Danish musical life, when Mahler and Richard Strauss were the contemporary colossi of the symphonic genre. Niels W. Gade, the first Danish symphonist to have some significance outside of his own country, became Hartmann's son-in-law.
It is a shame that the home-grown symphony inspired such little interest in Denmark during the first half of the nineteenth century, as if it had been otherwise perhaps Hartmann might have been encouraged to write more than this isolated pair. They are ostensibly conservative and follow a well-trodden Early Romantic path - but they also have more vigour than many of the Gade symphonies that succeeded them and, I think, a willingness to take chances and experiment.
The first, in the turbulent key of G minor (a tonality that inspired several impressive `sturm und drang' works in the Classical era), opens strikingly with a solo clarinet - indeed the slow introduction as a whole is quite impressively different from any other symphonies written at the time and bespeaks a more personal mood than the usual, grandiose curtain raiser. The slow introduction to the second symphony is also quite intimate in tone, with some beautifully delicate string writing. Throughout both symphonies there are some really inspired touches in the orchestration, which is never less than assured and effective in general. The second symphony eschews the minor key shadows for something brighter and more `Classical' in tone; at the same time there are some quirky pauses and abrupt changes in direction that lend it a charm of its own.
Apparently Spohr, who admired the first symphony, professed the opinion that he would have preferred "a few more calm and light passages in the first and third movements" - thankfully, Hartmann does not seem to have taken that advice on board, as both of his contributions to the genre have more spirit, energy and clarity of orchestration than Spohr's all-too-often insipid and rhythmically flaccid essays in symphonic form.
If you enjoy music of this period, I think you'll enjoy these works. They are played well and with obviously sympathy; the clarinet playing stands out for praise, as it should in works in which the clarinets have such a prominent role - it seems to have been a favourite instrument of the composer. If you are looking for a supplement to this disc, the same forces have also released a collection of overtures by Hartmann, which shares all the virtues of this recording, J. P. E. Hartmann: Vølvens spådom; Overtures
. Heartily recommended.