At Trio prices this
is instantly and robustly recommendable.
If you are looking for a superbly recorded
substantial and meatily symphonic representation
of Hindemith then this set at mid-price
is for you.
The boxed set coincidentally
marks consecutive periods of Blomstedt’s
chief conductorship with San Francisco
(1985-95) and the Gewandhaus (1998-).
It should be seen in much the same perspective
as his fine Nielsen and Sibelius series.
The Mathis symphony
is, as the notes indicate, to be seen
in parallel with the Die Harmonie
der Welt symphony. Both symphonies
relate to major operas. Both were completed
and performed before the operas on which
they are based. Both are concerned with
philosophical dilemmas and stresses
(like Pfitzner's Palestrina,
Inglis Gundry's Galileo and RVW's
Pilgrim's Progress). Blomstedt
glowingly captures the tenderness of
the Mathis score and has the stereo
and digital advantage over the composer's
ADD mono version. This really does make
a difference in Decca's wide-stage sound
Die Harmonie der
Welt arose from the opera of the
same name on the subject of Johannes
Kepler (1571-1630). Kepler related the
motion of the planets to a cosmic harmony
perceiving the music of the spheres
in the motion of the universe. Kepler's
search for the harmony that ruled the
motion of the planets recalls Schreker's
Die Ferne Klang (superbly recorded
on Naxos) and a similarly doomed search
by the anti-hero in Korngold's Die
Kathrin. Blomstedt is excellent
in putting across the lofty themes and
man's inconsequentiality although Mravinsky
in his famous Moscow 1965 version (BMG
and Oakwood) is even better, I think.
The music has a visionary air, trudging,
rambunctious, dissenting and like all
of Hindemith largely free from avant-garderie.
The finale, Musica Mundana, aims
to capture the celestial harmony - "...
the world itself is composed of the
harmony of sounds and heaven itself
moves according to the motion of this
harmony" - a text from Hrabanus Maurus
(c.780-856). At the peak of this final
movement there is a harking back to
the finale of Bartók's Concerto
for Orchestra mixed with some very
Russian bells. It is as if Pilgrim has
returned home to the open and welcoming
arms of God the Father.
Blomstedt is scathingly
defiant and full of bravado in the Symphonic
Metamorphosis (trs. 5 and 8). He
is not insensitive to the Mahlerian
winks and in-jokes, magically tense
and hushed in the second movement’s
Chinese chatter recalling similar enchantment
in Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra.
for strings and brass is to be distinguished
from the Konzertmusik for piano,
brass and harps Op.49 (1930) included
on DG's fine ‘Hindemith conducts Hindemith’
set (474 770-2). It is a virtuoso piece
full of entertaining vitality and extrovert
display written, like the Stravinsky
Symphony of Psalms and Ravel's
Piano Concerto in G, for Boston Symphony's
Fiftieth Anniversary in 1931.
famously written to replace the cheeky-cheery
Schwanendreher in a London concert
that coincided with the death of King
George V. Hindemith, like Britten, made
no fuss when asked to produce a more
dignified alternative and wrote this
six minute piece in six hours. Walther
is the soloist. She is achingly communicative
in this music of mourning - the antithesis
of public obsequies; private grief.
could play most of the instruments in
the standard orchestra and wrote sonatas
for all of them. The instrument close
to his heart was the viola which he
played in the Amar Quartet in the teens
and twenties of the last century. Der
Schwanendreher is among my favourite
Hindemith works - a work much underestimated.
A ‘schwanendreher’ is, literally, a
swan turner i.e. the medieval servant
responsible for turning the skewered
swan on the banqueting spit. The piece
uses various old German folksongs, the
signature song being Seid ihr nicht
der Schwanendreher? (Aren't you
the swan-turner?). The piece sometimes
resorts to the cheery, smile-wreathed,
vacant-eyed and slightly kitschy affability
that you find in Siegfried Wagner's
Violin Concerto and some of his concert
overtures. However the piece is much
more than this being sharply soulful
much of the time and optimistic in the
showy finale where the Schwanendreher
tune beams in full glory. Though
slightly less lapidary this work bears
compare with Vaughan Williams' much
deprecated suite for viola and orchestra
(nicely recorded on RCA-BMG by Frederick
By the way it was Hindemith
who famously premiered the Walton Viola
Concerto before Lionel Tertis repented
of his initial disdain.
sprang from a visit to the church
of Santa Croce in Florence in May 1937.
There Hindemith was much taken with
the Giotto frescoes on episodes from
the life of Saint Francis. In this sense
the work can be compared with
Martinů's Visions of
Piero de la Francesca and McCabe's
Chagall Windows. It has all the
religious visionary glow of Mathis.
The work had been completed in February
1938 and the premiere came in London
in July 1938 with the Ballet de Monte
Carlo, Massine dancing the part of Saint
Francis and Hindemith conducting. The
suite's three movements draws on five
of the eleven sections of the ballet.
The central ‘toy march’ links to the
Chinoiserie of the Weber Metamorphosis.
There is a Venetian Gabrieli-like grandeur
about the brass writing especially in
the final passacaglia movement titled
Here begin Creation's praises.
Nobilissima remains a second string
to Mathis but is essential listening
in the Hindemith oeuvre.
The final disc moves
from San Francisco to Leipzig. The Gewandhaus
is an even more congenial acoustical
space than Davies Symphony Hall. Symphonia
Serena is translated in the booklet
as ‘Cheerful Symphony’ but it is more
serene than red-cheeked and cheery.
According to Michael Kube it is a companion
to Hindemith's Symphony in E flat (1940),
a work I do not know but which was recorded
by Boult on Everest. The ever so brief
second movement, based on a Beethoven
military march, recalls the ebullient
moments from the Weber Metamorphosis.
The Colloquy movement, for strings
alone, has the writing spread across
two groups with some succulent pizzicato
work at 5.19 onwards . The Serena
was premiered by Antal Dorati in Dallas
on 1 February 1947.
The notes which I have
plundered for parts of this review are
first class. Musical analysis is kept
to a minimum and such descriptions as
are deemed necessary are jargon free.
The first class contributions from Michael
Steinburg and Michael Kube are drawn
from the original single CD issues.
This set rather neatly
bookends with the release of the complete
DG recordings of ‘Hindemith conducting
Hindemith’ on DG
'Original Masters' 474 770-2.
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.