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Sinfonia Serena & Der Harmonie der Welt
 Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Blomstedt
458 899-2 67 mins.
 Amazon UK  Amazon USA

Less familiar than Hindemith's symphony derived from his opera Mathis der Maler, which has held a tenuous place in the 20th. C. orchestral repertoire, these two symphonies date from 1946 and 1951 respectively, the latter reworked from material for an opera of the same name not completed until 1957, and almost forgotten.

I heard Hindemith (1895-1963) introduce his Serene Symphony at a BBC concert, at The People's Palace in East London, shortly before his unexpected death, conducting in his undemonstrative, business-like manner, and have welcomed this opportunity to renew its acquaintance. Translated as Cheerful Symphony in the liner notes, the serene beginning of the earlier of the two leads through to a rather grandiose, portentous conclusion of the first movement. Its second movement, for winds alone, is a paraphrase of a military march by Beethoven, building to a boisterous, noisy ending. The third, Colloquy, for strings alone is delicate, with solo cadenzas and two contrasted passages brought together in contrapuntal combination, Hindemith's forte. The finale, for full orchestra, returns to the good-natured mood of the opening, builds up once more with contrapuntal density and brings back the first movement's main theme to round off the whole work. This well tried formal scheme for the four movements is to be found also in Vaughan Williams's 8th and Nielsen's 6th symphonies; the three would make an excellent concert programme of just the right length.

The later work has a programme based upon the life of the astronomer Kepler, who endowed the motion of the planets with musical proportions, and his search for 'the harmony which undoubtedly rules the Universe'. Musica instrumentalis has wide contrasts; Musica Humana conjoins separate materials (as in the slow movement of the other symphony here) and Musica Mundana, the third of its three movements, is a fugato leading into a long, heavily orchestrated passacaglia, with a grandiose peroration, which I found more academic than inspiring.

These symphonies are well recorded, satisfactory accounts of well-crafted music which, fifty years on, no longer seems to be part of the main stream. Purchasing decisions will therefore depend upon the music itself. It is hard now to recall that Hindemith's personal harmonic language, systematised in his writings, was at one time seen as innovative and a rival to Schoenberg's 12-tone system, so conservative does his later music now sound.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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