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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Concert Music for Strings and Brass Op. 50
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber

BBC Philharmonic conducted by Yan Pascal Tortelier
Leonidas Kavakos, violin
Recorded at Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester 11/12 May 2000
DDD [63:32]

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This is the fifth instalment in the Chandos survey of Hindemith's orchestral output and anyone who has spent time with any of the other discs will know that Tortelier has already proved his credentials as an interpreter of Hindemith's music. This latest addition is another fine disc although opinions will no doubt differ amongst fans of the composer as to where the definitive recordings lie.

The triumph of this particular disc is the Violin Concerto, which is performed with tremendous panache by the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Kavakos possesses a beautiful, pure tone that has the clarity of crystal; on the face of it not a characteristic that you would necessarily think of as a prerequisite for performance of Hindemith's music. Yet it suits the score wonderfully well, Kavakos floating over the orchestra in the central Langsam with a sweetness that is just right for the often bittersweet quality of Hindemith's melodic and harmonic palette. In the outer movements also there is a definition in the articulation that is striking. Hindemith was of course a fine violin and viola player himself and although this was his only major work for solo violin and orchestra (there is a smaller scale chamber concerto for the violin in his Kammermusik series) he wrote for the instrument with clear skill and technical assurance. Kavakos carries off the more demanding passages with admirable aplomb and precision, the cadenza in the final Lebhaft being exceptionally well handled, and overall makes a strong case for this fine concerto to be heard more often in the concert hall. The orchestral accompaniment too is impressively incisive and full where necessary but never overbearing.

Written in 1930 nine years before the Violin Concerto, the Concert Music for Strings and Brass was commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky and premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra as part of their fiftieth anniversary season. It is a strong, bold work and here receives a performance that is suitably full blooded, aided by the forward yet magnificently richly recorded sound we have come to expect from Chandos. Based loosely on the form of the baroque concerto grosso the work makes considerable use of antiphonal effects associated with the idea of concertino and ripieno groups, an aspect of the work that comes across strongly in this performance. The BBC Philharmonic brass are in their element here with some wonderfully sonorous sounds although the strings too are in fine form (listen to the detail in the opening fugato of the second movement). The slow central string melody at the heart of the second movement has just the right feeling of pathos and the movement builds to a particularly thrilling conclusion.

For the Symphonic Metamorphoses I turned for comparison to the 1988 Decca recording (421 523-2) by the San Francisco Symphony under Herbert Blomstedt. This has long since been my preferred recording of this work being coupled with an equally fine Mathis der Maler Symphony and for my money it still holds its own, although Tortelier does run it close. Again the bold presentation of Tortelier's performance impresses but Blomstedt has the edge in the sheer vitality and spirit of the playing. Listen to the exultant trumpet melody around 1'06" and the San Francisco brilliantly convey the exuberance of the music (whoever said Hindemith was dry and academic!) Both performances capture the jazzy elements of the Turandot Scherzo well and the poignant Andantino, surely one of the composer's most beautiful creations, is tenderly played by both orchestras. In the final Marsch however it is Blomstedt once again who conveys the most convincing case, both in the stately opening with its slightly steadier tempo through to the blazing final bars.

Christopher Thomas

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