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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Kammermusik No. 2, Op. 36, No.1 (1924) [19:38]
Concert Music for Viola and Large Chamber Orchestra Op. 48 (1930) [21:03]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1945) [27:31]
Lee Luvisi (piano)
Ralph Hillyer (viola)
Louisville Orchestra/Jorge Mester (conductor Kammermusik, Concert Music); Lawrence Leighton Smith (conductor Concerto)
Rec. June 6th 1968 (Kammermusik), May 7th 1969 (Concert Music), November 7th 1987 (Concerto), Macauley Theatre, Louisville, Kentucky.
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First Edition Music and the Louisville Orchestra were a pioneering partnership which specialised in recordings of music by modern composers in the late 1940s and 1950s. Looking at the Louisville Orchestra’s current programming this is sadly no longer the case. This compilation consists of recordings re-issued from the original First Edition LP catalogue, and the booklet usefully reprints the entire commentary from each album. The CD has been mastered from the original master tapes which I’m sure is true, though marginal rumble, some ticks (and is that end of side distortion?) on the soundtrack of Op.48 leads me to suspect some jiggery-pokery with a disc rather than a tape. The recordings are generally fine for their time with rich bass, crisp treble sound and minimal tape hiss – more on some of the drawbacks later.

The booklet accurately states, ‘Some audiences, desiring musical conservatism, find Hindemith’s work overly radical; others, seeking radicalism, find him too conservative.’ It is certainly unfair and ignorant of composition students to mention his name with the same inflection as they might mention food poisoning or skin disease. The music here is rewarding on many levels. Hindemith’s mastery of orchestration and compositional technique are always evident but never dryly academic, and the results ooze quality to which many aspire but few achieve. Harmonically inventive and intellectually stimulating, Hindemith is not without influence on some contemporary composers. Take the piano solo about 3:15 into the second movement of Kammermusik: I’ll bet my collection of exotic Belgian beer glasses that the origin of one of Stockhausen’s ‘Tierkreis’ music boxes can be found right here.

All three pieces were recorded in the same venue, but there could be hardly more difference in recording approach and result. Kammermusik has a fairly natural perspective, excellent piano sound (though the instrument could have done with re-tuning) and detail which can rival current digital issues. The Concerto is pretty much what you would expect from a more recent recording, though with multi-miking some instruments (high piccolo for instance) occasionally pop embarrassingly out of the texture like flesh bulbs at an award ceremony. The Concert Music is the least fortunate here. It is marked as a World Première recording, which is nice, and the orchestra sets in promisingly. The viola solo seems however to have been placed in a separate recording booth and given improbable levels of nasty, ringing reverb, while the orchestra is left to drift around somewhere out in the distance while the solo instrument fills the soundstage. I often quite enjoy 1960s stereo techniques, with instrumental groups sometimes placed far left or right in order to heighten the effect. The orchestra certainly sounds fine during tuttis. It is a shame that the ‘swimming pool’ acoustic of the soloist effectively drowns much of the fine orchestral playing, and this particular recording won’t stand up to much repeated hearing.

Caveats aside, this is a useful compilation which is worth seeking out. The works are all very well played, with an unmannered lightness of touch which brings out genuinely expressive moments, and even some humour on occasion. The magnificent and sensitive piano playing of Lee Luvisi should also receive a mention here. The Louisville Orchestra has a close connection with this music (they commissioned work from Hindemith), and the whole thing has a spirited, almost ‘recorded in the presence of the composer’ feel, though I’m sure he would have had something to say about that solo viola sound.

Dominy Clements



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