The principal English biography of Karl Amadeus Hartmann lumps him in with Hindemith and Henze, and you can hear why from the angular but Classically proportioned introduction to the Concerto funebre. If he is a missing link, still under- appreciated, it is due to his self-imposed internal exile within Nazi Germany, and this 1939 concerto is his silent protest, full of anguish, spoken mostly under the breath. Alina Ibragimova emphasises this inward quality with hair’s breadth pianissimos, caught by very close microphones. Another overtly ‘produced’ recording, on ECM, nevertheless sets Isabelle Faust in a more natural aural perspective, and the Munich Chamber Orchestra projects the work’s relentless intensity with sharper accents than the soft-grained Britten Sinfonia.
Both the recording and the playing of the hitherto unrecorded solo suites and sonatas of 1927 make for much more comfortable listening, and herein lies the real draw. The shadow of Bach may loom inescapably over Hartmann’s toccatas, fugues and chaconnes, but as a whole these works are more imaginative than those of some of his neo-Classical contemporaries, Hindemith among them. This is youthful, sappy music, full of danger; Ibragimova is the same age as Hartmann was at the time of its composition (22), and she does well not to take the composer quite at his word when he asks for ‘insanely fast, ugly playing’, riding on the music’s edge without sacrificing the tone of her Pietro Guarneri, and finding a sure melodic line in the few movements of repose. As a calling-card for this richly gifted, Russian- born but UK-trained violinist, the disc could hardly be improved upon, but its dissemination of the hidden Hartmann is more valuable still.