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Downloads available from eclassical.com

Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Mathis der Maler (1934) [27:16]
Nobilissima Visione (1938) [22:46]
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1938) [21:28]
São Paulo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling
rec. August 2008, Sala São Paulo, Brazil. DDD.
BIS-SACD-1730 [72:41]

Experience Classicsonline

This CD offers a very logical coupling of, arguably, Hindemith’s three most approachable and colourful scores. Yet it’s fairly rare to bring them all together on one disc: there’s one other such collection of which I’m aware – a Decca release by Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony, which is actually a three-disc set. That’s been warmly praised by Rob Barnett but I haven’t heard it. However, the non-specialist collector may not want such a large dose of Hindemith as Blomstedt offers in which case this new BIS offering could be just the thing.
I first heard the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber back in the late 1960s in Claudio Abbado’s fine LSO recording (review) – I also first experienced Janác(ek’s Sinfonietta through the same Decca LP. A little while later I had the good fortune to get to know the Hindemith piece from the inside, as it were, during an orchestral weekend directed by Arthur Butterworth. It’s a splendid, inventive work, which exploits the orchestra quite brilliantly. Symphonic Metamorphosis is a wonderful showpiece even if it does labour under one of the most (ironically?) ponderous titles in the repertoire. Neschling leads a good performance.
In the Turandot Scherzo much of the sometimes teeming background detail is brought out. There’s some expert woodwind playing to enjoy in the Andantino, especially from the principal flautist. When we get to the Marsch I wondered if Neschling holds the first part of the movement on slightly too tight a rein. However, on reflection I think his approach is patient and the brilliant music that comes out of the second theme has more dash. Then, however, when I turned to Leonard Bernstein’s 1989 recording (DG), assembled from live performances with the Israel Philharmonic, it was noticeable that Bernstein’s account is much more vivid in many respects. The brass fugue in II is tremendous and Bernstein is electrifying in IV. That said, both performance and recording are more “in your face” than is the case with Neschling and some may prefer the relative restraint of the Brazilian performance and the more subtle recorded sound. Incidentally, the composer’s own recordings the Symphonic Metamorphosis and of Mathis, both dating from 1955 but still sounding remarkably good, were included in an indispensable boxed set by DG a few years ago. Rob Barnett rightly enthused over it. I’m unsure if it remains in the catalogue but if it’s still available it’s well worth snapping up. It’s interesting that Hindemith himself sets off like a whippet in I and he’s also exciting, if less high octane than Bernstein, in IV.
Mathis der Maler is one of Hindemith’s most engaging scores and Neschling does it well. In the first movement, Engelkonzert, he obtains some excellent playing, which is enhanced by the realistic BIS recording. I like the way that the conductor keeps the orchestral textures clear at all times. At 6:26 both the interpretation and the recording expand very naturally into the climax of the movement. Bernstein’s aforementioned Hindemith disc also includes Mathis. His conception of the start of this movement is broader and he goes in for more in the way of point-making than Neschling but is the Brazilian’s way with the music more natural? On the other hand, Bernstein’s account of the main allegro is the more dynamic of the two. Hindemith, in his 1955 reading, displays real energy in the allegro.
In the second movement, Grablegung, Neschling gets his orchestra to play with no little refinement – and the recorded sound matches that refinement. There’s restrained dignity on show here which I find both appealing and also appropriate to the music. By comparison I wonder if Bernstein overplays his hand just a bit. The Versuchung des heiligen Antonius (The temptation of St Anthony) is the most complex movement of the symphony and accounts for about half its total length. It’s also the most dramatic section. Neschling’s handling of the music is impressive in its own right. His string section is very persuasive in the lyrical stretches while the contributions of the woodwind and brass are incisive. However, Bernstein’s performance is biting and vivid, suggesting to me that Neschling, good though he is, could get more out of the score. Bear in mind that, once again, Bernstein’s performance has a certain “in your face” quality that may not be to all tastes.
In his valuable notes Malcolm MacDonald comments that Nobilissima Visione is a “direct successor” to Mathis der Maler and so it sounds in John Neschling’s performance; it makes excellent sense to juxtapose these scores on disc. Neschling brings the right degree of gravitas to the reflective introduction to I. When this gives way to the Rondo the way in which the textures are carefully crafted and balanced pays dividends. In the lively sections of II there’s some deft playing to admire. The final movement is an impressive passacaglia. Here Neschling delivers a reading that manages to imbue the music with appropriate weight without ever sounding portly.
This is an astutely planned disc, which brings together some of Hindemith’s most attractive and impressive orchestral music. My comparative listening to Bernstein and to Hindemith himself suggested that Neschling’s interpretations aren’t the last word on the subject. These reference points suggest that he could, perhaps, deliver more. The performances are, however, satisfying in their own right and I enjoyed them. There’s a good deal of accomplished and colourful playing from the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra.
I listened to this hybrid SACD in CD format. The BIS sound is very good, conveying a commendable amount of detail – important in Hindemith’s often busy scoring – yet reporting a believable concert hall acoustic. This collection is well worth your attention.
John Quinn
See reviews of the download by Dan Morgan & Brian Wilson











































































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