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Rilke-Lieder
Paul HINDEMITH
(1895–1963)

6 Lieder from Das Marienleben op. 27 (1922/1923) [20:17]
Regina WITTEMEIER (b. 1956)
Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen – acht Lieder nach Rainer Maria Rilke, op.34 (2003) [25:57]
Barbara Sauter (soprano), Richard Wiedl (tenor), Fabian Dobler (piano)
rec. 11-13 September 2005 (Hindemith); 8-10 February 2005 (Wittemeier).
THOROFON CTH2458 [46:28]
Experience Classicsonline


I had a friend who studied with Hindemith in Berlin in the 1930s and she told me that he was one of the funniest men she ever met; what a shame he never showed that side of himself in his music. To some extent this is true. Hindemith was a deeply serious musician and sometimes his seriousness can appear to be dourness – the Konzertmusik for piano, brass and two harps, or the Octet – but so many of his works overflow with good humour, sometimes slightly heavy-handed to be sure, but humour it most definitely is. Try the delightful Flute Sonata, or the overtly comic Militärmusik Minimax. This is too often missed because we are told he is a bit staid and, let’s be honest, dull. In general his music is well crafted and always has something of interest in it, not to mention good tunes. He shouldn’t be written off just because of a common misconception – after all, you wouldn’t write somebody off just because you disliked the size of his ears!
 
Das Marienleben is a large-scale song-cycle comprising fifteen songs and playing for a little over sixty minutes. Here we have numbers 1, 2, 3, 8, 10 and 15. Between 1939 and 1959 Hindemith orchestrated these six Lieder and this is probably why they were chosen for inclusion on this disk. The poems, by Rilke, tell the story of the Virgin Mary, from birth to death, in the most beautiful, lyric, poetry; words ripe for setting to music. Hindemith achieves the miraculous, as did Schubert in his three great, late, cycles, creating an hour’s worth of music full of incident and variety. He responds fully to the words, creating some of his best music, certainly some of his best vocal music. It’s not easy to sing as the vocal line is wide-ranging and angular. The music is impulsive, sometimes expressionistic and bordering on the atonal. The piano writing is equally challenging but it supports the voice expertly and the cycle is a true duo partnership. Despite the obvious difficulties there is a feeling of the baroque cantata about this music.
 
Almost immediately after the première, Hindemith started revising the cycle, eventually publishing a new version in 1948. The revisions remove some of the angularity of the original and rounded off the corners. Many, including Arnold Schönberg and Glenn Gould, have stated their preference for the first version. Certainly this is more exciting and extrovert. The six Lieder presented here are given in the original.
 
Barbara Sauter sings very well, easily dealing with the difficult vocal line. Her performance makes me wish this disk had been a recording of her performing the complete cycle.
 
Regina Wittemeier’s Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen – acht Lieder nach Rainer Maria Rilke is a brave attempt to marry Rilke’s lyric poetry with the musical language of the 21st century. For me, it doesn’t work, I simply find these songs without interest. It’s one thing to write music which is abstract and relates only to itself, but when a composer starts to set words to music, he/she has a grave responsibility to the poet. Setting words to music which goes against the poetry is a dangerous way to illuminate - and if you set words to music you must believe that you can, in some way, enhance the words - the poet’s work.
 
My problem with Wittemeier’s composition is that she seems uninterested, indeed distanced, from the words she is setting. A case in point is the second song – Aus einem April – the poem of which consists of thirteen lines. If you read the poem it flows freely, whereas Wittemeier sets each line as a separate entity, thus losing the sense of the words. Rilke, indeed any poet, deserves better than this. Richard Wiedl sings very well, has a very attractive, lyrical, voice, and puts a persuasive case for these songs but, ultimately, the lack of true lyricism lets him down. Fabian Dobler accompanies both singers well and his virtuosity in the Hindemith Lieder is breathtaking.
 
This is the first work I have heard by Wittemeier and it is obvious that she has something to say. I would welcome the chance to hear more of her work, perhaps her choral Mass in G minor, op.8 or Wahrheitspsalmen op.46. And what of her instrumental works such as the Concerto for trumpet, organ and percussion, op.41 or the Piano Sonata, op.35? I hope that we will be given the chance to sample some more of her work in the future. 
 
It is unfortunate for Wittemeier that she had her songs coupled with the selection from Hindemith. The older composer is such a strong personality that it takes an equally robust composer to stand on his/her own feet by the side of such competition.
 
In the long run it’s Das Marienleben which is of most interest. There is a fine recording of the 1923 version by Russian/Canadian soprano Roxolana Roslak with Glenn Gould (SONY SM2K 52674), recorded in the mid-1970s, which won the 1979 Juno Award. For the revised version there is a good live recording, made in Berlin on 9 December 1953, by Erna Berger with Gerhard Puchelt (ARTONE 222603 (4CDs)). There’s also a recording of both versions in a 2 CD set by Judith Kellock with Zita Carno (Koch International 3-7381-46x2).
 
Bob Briggs
 


 


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