An intriguing “concept album” from Amsterdam, which is a hotbed of fresh thinking about the presentation of all sorts of music. All three works were composed during the 1937 to 1939 period, when the imminent Second World War was clearly around the corner. All three composers were humanists and pacifists and all three were finally forced to flee.
Britten’s variations were composed for the 1937 Salzburg Festival and of course he did not remain there. Hartmann stayed in Munich during the war but refused any performance of his music in Germany after the Nazis came to power. And Bartok emigrated to the U.S. in 1940, sure than Hungary would surrender to the Nazis. The Britten work has a funeral march, and the four-movement Hartmann work is a funeral concerto. Although the outer movements of the Bartok Divertimento employ his usual Hungarian and Romanian folk elements, the middle, longest, movement is a nightmarish adagio full of the composer’s unique “night sounds.”
All three works could be said to have been written under the threat of a holocaust, with each composer dealing with the stress in his own individual manner. Somehow the special timbre of the string orchestra seems to express these emotions more effectively than any other instrumentation. The skilled Netherlands Chamber Orchestra players communicate successfully both the lighter moments and the heavier emotions in these works, and their lovely string ensemble tone is perfectly captured by PentaTone’s engineers.
– John Sunier