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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Das Marienleben Op.27 (1948 version) [71:05]
Elisabeth Meyer-Topsøe (soprano)
Per Salo (piano)
rec. Mantziusgaarden, Birkerød, June 2006
Includes texts


Experience Classicsonline


Hindemith wrote Das Marienleben – to Rilke’s poetry – in 1922-23. The fifteen poems had been written in 1912 but though Hindemith early absorbed their narrative of the Virgin Mary from life to death, he kept returning to the songs and revising them. This was primarily in the light of his own compositional development, so that he revised the songs in the mid 1930s and then again for publication in 1948. It’s the post-War revision that’s performed here.

In some cases earlier songs are ditched whilst others are left untouched. The principal specific changes relate to singability. Though he needed to inject a tension between the voice and piano there were occasions where he overbalanced and revision clarified his exploration of Rilke’s text. One wonders how the first performers of the 1922-23 edition coped with the inherent technical demands, which are almost constant. They are still very considerable in the 1948 revision.

From the first song Geburt Mariae we can hear what a technically and expressively demanding sing this is going to be. Hindemith pushes the voice ungratefully high in places but one notes that these are places that exactly mirror the greatest strains and tensions in Rilke’s poetry. Elisabeth Meyer-Topsøe proves resilient here, reserving real communicative power when most necessary. In the third song for instance, Mariae Verkündigung she responds strongly to the urgency of the writing that talks of the ‘quite without mating’ in the Annunciation. Here her tensile speed and commanding vocalism, as well as the fine exploration of Hindemith’s rather brusque piano writing by Per Salo, is excellent.

A word about Salo, who is a thoroughly convincing proponent. Listen to the terse compression of his contributions or to, say, the gruff underlining of Argwohn Josephs. Here we also find that Meyer-Topsøe perfectly captures the element of hectoring, almost abstracted compaction that the vocal line demands. Or, too, the flourishes of the next song Verkündigung über den Hirten where the piano writing is almost macabre. Rast auf der Flucht is a struggle – it is for most singers – but the brittle fugal Von der Hochzeit zu Kana is well characterised. And so is the melancholy and transfixing Vor der Passion one of the few expressly slow movements.

There have been other recordings of the 1948 version of the work of course. Prominent among them is the Annelies Kupper-Carl Seeman performance on Christophorous 74612 – they premiered the new version and this dates from 1949. There’s also the Judith Kellock and Zita Carno performance on Koch 373812, though that contains both the 1922-23 version and the 1948 revision and is a two CD set. Nevertheless this new performance is powerfully expressive, technically very accomplished and has really excellent recorded sound.

Jonathan Woolf


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