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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Concerto (1939)
Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes by Weber (1943)
Symphony Mathis der Maler (1934)
David Oistrakh (violin)/LSO/composer (Concerto)
LSO/Claudio Abbado (Weber)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Paul Kletzki (Maler)
rec Oct 1962 (Concerto); Feb 1968 (Weber); Nov 1969 (Maler) ADD
ELOQUENCE DECCA 466 271-2 [76.49]
superbudget www.buywell.com

Little was said of Hindemith during the last decade’s focus on the revival of Nazi-condemned music (1920-45). Other names drew down much more attention. The music of Krasa, Goldschmidt, deserved revival and reassessment but perhaps because Hindemith was already much more than a name on the international concert stage his music fell into the background; not that there was any shortage of recordings.

It is much too easily forgotten that Hindemith was something of a 'bad boy' in his salad days. Operatic and dance shockers like Nusch-Nuschi gave the early signs of a voice unlikely to be curved by political conformity. Things came to a head with the first performance of the symphony Mathis der Maler. There were protests and the regime which had been looking for a pretext for a cultural putsch stripped the composer of all academic appointments and banned the playing of his music. In 1938, none too soon, he went to the USA and to academic preferment at Yale University. He never returned to Germany despite entreaties.

The Symphony is based on Hindemith's eponymous opera. The subject is the sixteenth century German painter Mathias Grunewald. Grunewald forsook establishment comfort. He took up with the peasantry's rebellion in 1525 against oppression by the nobility only to find the supplanters as bad as the supplanted. The opera was recorded by EMI in the black vinyl age with Kubelik conducting a Bavarian production and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the title role. Famously DF-D recorded for DG another of Hindemith's operas - Cardillac.

The Symphony is in three movements. This is a spiritual work with a subtext of turmoil and conflict. The conflict is most significantly within - the struggle of conscience and conviction of an intelligent artists and this had layers of significance for the dispossessed composer. Kletzki gives an emotionally engaged performance and there is some shatteringly and batteringly gripping brass playing in the final movement Versuchung des heiligen Antonius. Overall though this performance leaves the suspicion that there is more to the work than this although each time I hear the Antonius movement and especially the OSR violins 9.02 I have fewer doubts, at least about that movement. One of these days I hope to be able to compare this with Karajan's 1960 version. I wonder what Hindemith made of HvK's recording. He could easily have heard it. Intriguingly the transparencies of the Metamorphosis have been sacrificed for the dense layering of sound.

In 1962 the composer went into the Decca studios in London to record his Violin Concerto. Presumably he took the opportunity while there to drop in to see his friend William Walton whose Viola Concerto he had premiered in the 1920s. The Violin Concerto can be viewed as a nostalgic hymn to a German romanticism that the composer saw as utterly divorced from Nazi helden art. Oistrakh's magisterial performance makes this a disc apart. The singing line is accentuated by Oistrakh and the presence of the composer just one year before his death lends authority to the reading. The elements of the concerto include pawky humour à la Shostakovich, Waltonian capering and romance (it is just a shade Bergian); the latter elements clearest at 7.40 in the Langsam. There are uproarious climaxes, serene sincerity and the sort of subtle unpredictable cantilena you find in Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto moderated by a neo-classical grain or two.

The caring and sensitively balanced Weber Metamorphosis from Abbado and the LSO is the centrepiece here. Even if you have problems with the mock oriental tinge of the Turandot second movement you should find rewarding musical sustenance in the tender andantino. Hindemith can be rather heartless but in this movement he defies critics. An honest down-to-earth balance gives the listener the feeling of hearing everything. The Metamorphosis is in four movements and spins the music from three piano pieces and the main theme from Weber's Turandot overture. If you don't know the piece but you do like Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra you will like this.

Good, English-only, notes by David Hurwitz.

Rob Barnett


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