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Chamber Works by Robert Müller-Hartmann: ARC Ensemble

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Chamber Works by Robert Müller-Hartmann: ARC Ensemble
Robert Müller-Hartmann Family courtesy Yishvai Müller-Hartmann

Having already produced six other recordings in the series Music in Exile, Toronto’s celebrated ARC Ensemble [Artists of The Royal Conservatory] helmed by its intrepid Artistic Director Simon Wynberg, turn their attention to the all-but-lost music of Robert Müller-Hartmann. The timing of this production ought not to be lost on ardent followers of the ARC, as the ensemble – one of the truly iconic chamber groups in Canada – is celebrating 20 years since it came into existence. And what better way to do so with the Chamber Works of Robert Müller-Hartmann, the seventh in what must surely be a fabled series [music that may never have seen the light of day] that Mr Wynberg, a dogged musical sleuth, has so elegantly curated.

Chamber Works by Robert Müller-Hartman the 6th in the Music in Exile series

First, hats off to the ARC for astonishingly accurate and coordinated accounts of this exquisite music, especially after what, by the looks of it [in the booklet] appear to be seemingly punctiliously detailed intentions of the composer. Although these [musical directions] bely the decidedly Germanic character that never really left Mr Müller-Hartman despite his exile, the character of the music – at least some of it – is remarkably evocative of a certain romantic love for the cultural topography [of the England of his time, that is, the 20th Century] in a manner that seems to have characterized the music of at least two more famous Germans from another time: Georg Frideric Handel and [to no small extent] Felix Mendelssohn.

Robert Müller-Hartmann courtesy Yishvai Müller-Hartmann

The ARC performance – Erika Raum and Kevin Ahfat – to be exact, is strikingly successful, avoiding any suggestion of a disparate and possibly unnecessarily complex work. The Sonata Op. 5 is played with particular intensity. Ms Raum and Mr Ahfat attack the development section [No II] with a spirit that anticipates the stately but brisk deportment of the final Movement, directed – not surprisingly – to be played nicht zu schnell, then breit by the composer.

The ARC’s cellist, Thomas Wiebe and Mr Ahfat excel in the next work [simply entitled] Two Pieces. The cello tone is decidedly bright without being piercing, complemented by decidedly sunny manner of Mr Ahfat’s pianism. This makes for a breathtaking, though not unnecessarily extrovert, performance – certainly in terms of timbral values. This naturally affects the overall character off the piece, making for another superb performance.

The celebrated ARC Ensemble

The language of Sonata Op. 32 is decidedly more [classically] modern than the rest of the repertoire. The two violins [Miss Raum and Marie Bérard] commune with each other in an almost ethereal manner, weaving the music into a kind of gossamer musical fabric. The overall effect is delightful as the music mixes profundity with instrumental playfulness. The Intermezzi and Scherzo often seemevocative of a Brahmsian character in a sublime manner, no doubt suggesting that Mr Müller-Hartman was naturally and deeply rooted in the German tradition [certainly in the latter composition].

From the quick vibrato of the violins and the pure tone which Steven Dann coaxes out of his viola, all of which leads into the subsequent bars of the String Quartet Nº 2, Op. 38, the ARC gives us a Robert Müller-Hartmann not only of his time, but for all time. The expansive freedom of the music is expressed in a grand manner. The suspense hanging over the third Adagio Movement turns into the naturally expressive resolution of the final movement through four changes in tempi. All of this leaves the listener with a sense that something quite magical has taken place – and not just in the final work, but throughout the performance by the ARC Ensemble on this extraordinary disc, which is to absolutely die for.

Deo gratis…

Music – 1: Sonata Op 5 [c. 1923] * – for violin and piano – Artur Schnabel in herzlicher Verehrung; 2: Two Pieces [before 1937] – for cello and piano; 3: Sonata, Op. 32 [c. 1935] – for two violins; 4: Three Intermezzi and Scherzo, Op. 22 [before 1937] – for piano; 5: String Quartet Nº 2, Op. 38 [before 1937].

Musicians – ARC Ensemble – Erika Raum: violin*; Marie Bérard: violin; Steven Dann: viola; Thomas Wiebe: cello; Kevin Ahfat: piano.

* Premiere Recording

Released – 2023
Label – CHANDOS [CHAN 20294]
Runtime – 1:09:18

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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