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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1953)
Concerto for Orchestra Op.38 (1925) [12.26]
Konzertmusik for piano, brass and harps Op.49 (1930) [24.18]
Symphony Mathis der Maler (1934) [27.28]
Symphonic Dances (1930s) [29.29]
Theme and Variations The Four Temperaments (1940) [26.59]
Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (1943) [20.26]
Ballet Overture Amor und Psyche (1944) [7.08]
Symphony Die Harmonie der Welt (1951) [36.06]
Interview - Paul Hindemith in Japan [2.35]
Monique Haas (piano) (Konzert)
Hans Otte (piano) (Temperaments)
Berlin Philharmoniker/Paul Hindemith
rec. 1954-57, Berlin Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, mono
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 770-2 [3CDs: 64.21+56.33+66.35]

This constitutes the complete DG legacy of Hindemith conducting his own orchestral compositions.

Other companies also contributed to the composer imprimatur literature. Telefunken issued a 78 rpm set of Mathis. Famously Decca recorded the Violin Concerto with Oistrakh - a formidably steady seller ever since. Everest contributed the Requiem as well as a Vienna Festival Orchestra version of Harmonie der Welt. EMI recorded him conducting the Philharmonia in Konzertmusik, Symphony for concert band, Nobilissima and Sinfonia Serena as well as the concertos for horn (Brain) and clarinet (Cahuzac). Fascinatingly, tucked away in the archives, there is a recording on Victor 78s of Hindemith as violist in Der Schwanendreher - now that I would like to hear! [see note]

Uniform with Universal's other Original Masters sets the presentation here is exemplary. The notes by Giselher Schubert concentrate on Hindemith as conductor of his own works clearly using DG's in-house archive files to fascinating effect.

Hindemith was born in Hanau, Germany and studied at Frankfurt where his first conductor role was taken at the Opera in 1923. During that decade he held vanguard position amid the avant-garde yet rejected twelve tone strictures.

The Concerto for Orchestra fits the bill of a rambunctious display piece to perfection. In the finale listen out at 00.48 for the impressively skidding scree of string sound. In the Konzert Hindemith treats us to a Bartókian cut-glass piano part (wonderfully done by Monique Haas) - all splinters and dazzle. There is also a marine fathom-depth to the delicate entwining of dreamy piano and harp. The last movement is memorable for pipingly acrid brass with lovingly weighted and restively brilliant dissonance at 00.48.

Mathis smiles with deep tender chordal sighs from the Berlin Phil's violin section. This version has an achingly poignant tenderness which recalls RVW's Tallis and Fifth Symphony. The Furtwängler-directed premiere of the opera on which the symphony is modelled was to have taken place at the Berlin State Opera in 1934 but was cancelled because a plot concerned with the death of German liberalism was rather too close to the reality of the times. As it was, the Symphony was premiered in Berlin on 12 March 1934. The opera saw fresh air in Zurich in 1938. I have been listening to Bruno Walter's Mozart recently and the satin sheen on the strings of his orchestras would suit this music very well indeed. After two movements that speak of serenity the finale leads our pilgrim ears through a ‘valley of the shadow of death’ out into a complex sunlight. This movement come from the intermezzo of the opera's final scene in which Mathis turns his back on the vicious outside world. The Symphony is part of a repertoire of works inspired by visual works of art. These include McCabe's Chagall Windows, Martinů's Frescoes of Pierro della Francesca and Rachmaninov and Reger's pieces inspired by Boecklin's Isle of the Dead. The Hindemith work is designed to evoke the reactions of someone viewing Mathias Grünewald's paintings at the Isenheim Altar in Colmar.

The Symphonic Dances sprang from a commission for a ballet by Diaghilev with choreography by Leonid Massine (as did the Weber Metamorphosis). When Hindemith was told that the subject was St Francis he discarded the music he had written thus far and these Dances come from the ‘discards’. The braying trumpet at 1.40 in the sehr langsam third movement is rather Russian - a surprise from the Berlin benches. The work is more symphony than dance though there are episodes of strongly rhythmic material.

The Four Temperaments comprises theme and four variations: Melancholic (tragic and memorable for the dialogue between Ott's piano and Hans Gieseler's solo violin), Sanguine (a very attractive romantic waltz on the same psychological line as Prokofiev's), Phlegmatic (equivocal and then soused in gemutlichkeit) and finally Choleric (triumphant rather than angry). The piano part is to the fore and often sprightly and confidently active.

The Weber Metamorphosis is Hindemith's most popular work and the only one I have heard live. It presents a beamingly ebullient Hindemith and one who, in the second movement, dabbles in Chinoiserie across magically held hushed notes from the strings. The four movements draw on themes from Weber’s eight pieces for four hand piano Op. 60 All'Ongharese. The second movement relates to the overture to Schiller's ‘Turandot’. There are several moments (tr. 4 2.54) when the skirling woodwind seem to relate to Mahler's works for instance the Bethge-based Das Lied von der Erde. The last movement recalls the Konzertmusik finale. Its brass effrontery rasps and blooms (the Sousa-American influence already?). Hindemith was to become a US citizen in 1946.

The Amor und Psyche overture is from the depths of the Second World War. It is a delightful piece with tinges of disillusion amid the hope. Written in the USA it is extremely attractive and delicately wrought; a stand-out track in this set.

Die Harmonie der Welt is an opera in five acts to a text by the composer. It had been premiered in Munich on 11 August 1957 three years after the recording sessions for the Symphony drawn from its music. The Symphony was premiered in Basle on 24 January 1952 with Sacher conducting. The critic Everett Helm claimed that the work was more of a pageant of events in the life of astronomer and musician Johannes Kepler than any conventionally narrative opera. It is reportedly less of a representation than a metaphor for a philosophical and ethical viewpoint. The symphony is probably a better vehicle for this than a word-shackled opera. The first movement is taken up with Kepler's blighted childhood where the second finds a kind of epic peace broadly limned by the strings. The Sehr breit third movement finale is a passacaglia - an apt complement to this most symphonic of the Hindemith symphonies. The music looks back to Mathis and the 1930s. Little convulsive rhythmic cells in the woodwind (5.20 in I) remind us that Hindemith was one of Walter Piston's teachers. The movements are Musica Instrumentalis, Musica Humana and Musica Mundana.

The Hindemith interview was taken down in Tokyo in April 1956 'on the wing'. It is in German only, rather like the longer interview on the Fricsay ‘Original Masters’ set and has plenty of chatter and whistling in the background.

An amusing touch, in a booklet that also reproduces the covers of the LPs as a nostalgia fix, is a page from Hindemith's journal into which he pasted the profusion of misspellings of his name. A sense of humour there to contrast with the composer’s forbiddingly Sibelian portrait.

This is the first release on CD of the Concert for Orchestra, Konzertmusik, Symphonic Dances, Amor und Psyche and Harmonie der Welt symphony.

This mono set is neatly set off by the simultaneous release of the splendid 1980s and 1990s Blomstedt-Hindemith series on Decca Trio 475 264-2.

This DG box is essential fare for the Hindemith specialist. Bravo, Universal and DG!

Rob Barnett

Mark Obert-Thorn comments


You mentioned in one of your recent Hindemith reviews that the recording of  "Der Schwanendreher" with the composer as soloist was stuck in the archives. Actually, I transferred that set (with Arthur Fiedler conducting his Sinfonietta) along with all of the rest of his Victor records for a Biddulph CD release (LAB 087) several years ago. This disc also included the Hindemith playing "Trauermusik" (with an unnamed orchestra conducted by Bruno Reibold), the Viola Sonata No. 3 and the Four-Hand Piano Sonata, the latter two with Jesus-Maria Sanroma. All the items were recorded in 1939. It's not listed in the back
catalogue on the Biddulph website, so I assume it's out of print.

Mark Obert-Thorn


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