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.
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
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)
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief