Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann, whose long name is commonly shortened to J.P.E., was, along with his son-in-law Niels Gade, the major figure in Danish nineteenth-century Romanticism. Hartmann's worklist is impressively enormous and his music has been recorded with considerable depth, particularly by Danish labels. While the generous offering on behalf of Hartmann is certainly welcome, it can be hard to know where to start, and the poor worklist for Hartmann in Grove's offers little assistance for non-Danes to get a grip on what he produced. Perhaps anticipating this need, the Danish Dacapo label has issued J.P.E. Hartmann: Volvens Spådom -- Overtures, which contains some of Hartmann's most significant and accessible creations, the cantata Vølvens Spådom and a selection of overtures from Hartmann's operas and stage works.
Vølvens Spådom (The Prophecy of the Seeress, 1872) is a large work for chorus, based on a modern verse retelling by poet Frederik Winkel Horn of a Norse mythological tale as transmitted from a medieval source; when it was heard in Leipzig in 1893, German listeners found it comparable to Wagner. Stylistically there is no connection as Hartmann's music falls right between Mendelssohn and his slightly older Swedish contemporary Franz Adolf Berwald. Vølvens Spådom is a good deal more adventurous than Mendelssohn, but more conservative than Berwald; while it has its stentorian moments, it is not nearly as stodgy as Stainer's The Crucifixion or even Mendelssohn's Elias. It is an impressive piece well recorded by Dacapo, though while Vølvens Spådom is unique to this release, the overtures are heard in recordings originally made in 1998 and released in a different package. The sound is a bit more squashed sounding in the overtures, and when they are quiet, they are really quiet. However, the overtures Axel og Valborg, Op. 57, (1857) and that to the opera Hakon Jarl, Op. 40 (1844), contain some of the most appealing orchestral music Hartmann produced, and they are well played by the Danish National Symphony under Thomas Dausgaard. If one is looking to satisfy any curiosity about J.P.E. Hartmann, then Dacapo's J.P.E. Hartmann: Volvens Spådom -- Overtures is a terrific place to start.