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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
CD1
Concert Music for Brass and Strings Op. 50 (1930) [16:11]
Nobilissima visione – Suite from the Dance Legend (1938) [25:00]
Symphonia serena (1946) [33:52]
CD2
Clarinet Concerto (1947) [24:13]
Horn Concerto (1949) [14:55]
Symphony in B flat for Concert Band (1951) [17:04]
Louis Cahuzac (clarinet)
Dennis Brain (French horn)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Hindemith
rec. Kingsway Hall, 19-24 November 1956. stereo. ADD
EMI CLASSICS 3 77344 2 [75:18 + 56:28]
 


This is a superb set and a natural complement to two other Hindemith boxes issued in 2003-4, one of vintage recordings; the other deriving from the 1990s sessions.
 
Between 1954 and 1957 DG arranged for the composer to record eight of his works with the Berlin Philharmonic. All of these can now be heard in all their analogue splendour on an Original Masters set (474 770-2: Concerto for Orchestra; Konzertmusik for piano, brass and harps; Symphony Mathis der Maler; Symphonic Dances; The Four Temperaments; Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber; Ballet Overture Amor und Psyche; Symphony Die Harmonie der Welt - see review )
 
Also to be savoured are Herbert Blomstedt’s modern Decca recordings on a Universal Trio set: (475 264-2: Symphony Mathis der Maler; Trauermusik; Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Weber; Konzertmusik for strings and brass; Der Schwanendreher Concerto; Nobilissima Visione – suite; Symphonia Serena; Symphony Die Harmonie der Welt - see review)
 
In the midst of his DG sessions Hindemith contracted to record six of his orchestral works for Columbia. To this end he spent a week in London’s Kingsway Hall with the top-flight Philharmonia at his disposal. The resulting recordings were then issued on three individual Columbia LPs at the staggered rate of one per annum between 1957 and 1959. The sleeve-notes were provided by horn-player and conductor Norman Del Mar (1919-1994). Those notes, lightly adapted, are used for this set.
 
The 1930 Concert Music is in two eight minute movements the first of which is spirited and heroic in tone. The second is grippingly fleet-footed with an almost sentimental middle section where one wonders whether Vaughan Williams heard this before he wrote the long desolate farewell of the Sixth Symphony. The triumphant final pages crown a work that deserves much more attention. The early stereo recording superbly catches the spatial riches of the writing. One can also hear how Rawsthorne’s style in the Symphonic Studies must also have been influenced.
 
The Nobilissima visione suite is drawn from music Hindemith started to write for Diaghilev. This was first commissioned from him in 1929. The impresario’s death resulted in work being shelved and it was only resumed when Massine showed serious interest. The ballet, which was premiered in London in 1938, follows a story taken from Giotto’s Florentine frescoes. These relate scenes from the life of St Francis of Assisi. This is another of Hindemith’s finest scores in which a spiritual-mystical seam is mined. This produced music very different from the louring upheaval of the Concert Music of eight years previously. Here we are closer to RVW’s Tallis in the first movement, cheerful and often unclouded in the march-initiated second and richly varied, meditative and serious in the final Passacaglia. Aptly the movements incorporate birdsong references carried by the woodwind. The final episode is crowned by a grandly rolling and impressive fortissimotypically using a repeated rhythmic cell.
 
Serenity is a prominent and memorable component of many of these scores usually conveyed in music of a slow pulse. In the Symphonia Serena serenity is freighted in amid an urgent forward spate in the arcing and striving first movement. After this the glitter and rush of the second cools the emotions before the Colloquy. This third movement Colloquy is in two distinctly styled segments, like the first movement of ten minutes duration. The first segment is for strings played arco. This is seething, searching and poignantly elegiac – was the composer thinking of his homeland devastated by Hitler first and then by the Allies. The second segment begins brusquely with great thrumming interjections by the massed strings contrasted with rustic fiddler dialogues. The fourth movement is marked Gay and is studded with wind solos. One can sometimes discern the impact this must have had on the orchestral writing of Piston and Schuman. It was written for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra who premiered it with Dorati in 1947.
 
The Clarinet Concerto was written for Benny Goodman who gave the first performance in 1950 with the Philadelphia and Ormandy. It is written in Hindemith’s version of a determined quasi-neo-classical manner, emotionally more detached than the Stravinsky Ebony Concerto, laid out with an evidently faultless ear for orchestral balance and recorded with equal fidelity. Only in the Ruhig movement (III of 4) is there the lightest hint of bluesy colouration and the finale is playful. The concerto is here taken with pure tone and assertive personality by Louis Cahuzac who also recorded the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto. Dennis Brain premiered the Horn Concerto in Baden-Baden in 1950. His instrument is lent aural prominence by the eliding of all brass instruments. The music allows some limited ‘give’ for the solo’s natural proclivity for romance. Despite this the orchestral tissue often remains razor-edged and barbed though here superbly balanced at all times (this performance and the Concert Music were also released on a EMI Great Recordings of the Century CD 3567782 - see review).
 
The three-movement Symphony in B flat is for concert band – an ensemble known as the ‘military band’ in the USA and England. Textures are mildly thrawn and busy – even ruthless. The middle movement is marked ‘fast and gay’ but is here more of a moderato. Trumpet and saxophone are placed in grateful dialogue against a funereal backdrop. The final Fugue uses a typically jerky propulsive figuration to counterpoint the regretful and nostalgic solos that float in a free-moving mosaic.
 
The performances throughout are of gripping virtuosity and the audio dimension is surprisingly vivid. Only in the more driven tuttis does one detect that faintly edgy graininess that goes with recordings now fifty years old.
 
I mentioned the DG box earlier. This EMI double is the perfect match with no duplication whatsoever. Both sets carry the authority of a composer in his vigorous sixties directing music written between the ages of 35 and 56. If you have to choose between the two then go for the DG. I say this because of the presence of the Mathis der Maler and Harmonie der Welt symphonies. However if you get one you will surely want the other.
 
The music-making in this handsomely presented EMI Classics set is compelling. Of the six works the most resonant are the Horn Concerto, Concert Music, Nobilissma Visione and the Symphonia Serena. These are the pieces that will draw you back with their dignified and fascinating moods and magnificently calculated orchestration.
 
Rob Barnett

 

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