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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Ludus tonalis, for solo piano (1942-43) [53:42]
Suite 1922 for piano, Op. 26 (1922) [17:50]
Boris Berezovsky (piano)
rec. 23-24 February 2006, Philharmonia Great Hall, Ekaterinburg, Russia. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 63412-2 [72:11]


In February 1940 Hindemith left the wartime terrors in Europe for the safety of the USA where he was to make his home. There, between 1942-43 in what he once described as “the land of limited impossibilities”, he wrote his Ludus tonalis series of piano studies at Yale University. During this highly productive period he also composed his celebrated if cumbersomely titled orchestral score the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.
 
A substantial score lasting over fifty minutes the Ludus tonalis opens with a Praeludium followed by twelve three-voice Fugues, each with one in the major keys, with eleven Interludes positioned between them. The score concludes with a Postludium. The premiere of the score was given by pianist Willard MacGregor at the University of Chicago in February 1944.    
 
The Ludus tonalis occupies a place in Hindemith’s oeuvre similar to that of the Art of the Fugue and The Well Tempered Clavier in the catalogue of Johann Sebastian Bach. Hindemith subtitled his collection of twenty-five piano pieces: “Studies in Counterpoint, Tonal Organization and Piano Playing.” The Latin title Ludus tonalis can be translated as Tonal games or Tonal play. It seems to imply a series of short, serious and dry, rather formal pieces. However, an often overlooked aspect of Ludus tonalis is the sense of entertainment and even playfulness that Hindemith communicates.
 
With this superbly performed interpretation of Ludus tonalis from Boris Berezovsky I was able to list a short description of the experience that his playing spontaneously evoked. Praeludium eventful; Fuga prima tranquil and anxious; Interludium primum high spirited, rather conceited; Fuga secunda swift and energetic; Interludium secundum restful; Fuga tertia multi-aceted; Interludium tertium galloping; Fuga quarta muscular and vulnerable; Interludium quartum scampering; Fuga quinta jerky and angular; Interludium quintum soothing cradle-song and agitation; Fuga sexta verging on sinister; Interludium sextum children’s games; Fuga septima disconcertion; Interludium septimum a heavy, dragging intensity; Fuga octavum wavering; Interludium octavum scurrying; Fuga nona dance-like; Interludium nonum sultry and steamy; Fuga decima mischievous; Interludium decimum temperamental; Fuga undecima reverential; Interludium undecimum apprehension and bewilderment; Fuga duodecima composed and unruly and the Postludium moody and nervous.
 
It was difficult to obtain information about the Suite1922for piano - a score that evidently swiftly established a place in the repertoire. From twenty years earlier than the Ludus tonalis and cast in five movements, the 1922 utilises popular American dance themes. Hindemith apparently turned his back on the work disowning it with the statement that it was, “really not a honorable ornament in the music-history of our time.” Guy Rickards in the booklet notes writes that, “It remains nevertheless a vivid example of his youthful liberality.”
 
In 1922 Berezovsky plays as if he was relating a story. The opening March is suggestive of a Keystone Kops chase; the Shimmy is jarring and edgy and the Nachtstück is evocative of the relative quiet of an American city in the early hours. The Boston movement vacillates and pulsates excitedly. In the concluding Ragtime amid hints of the American dance craze one is struck by the strident and frantic rhythmic activity.
    
A frequently encountered recording of the same two pieces is the one made by John McCabe in 1995 on Hyperion CDA66824. I have no personal knowledge of the recording but it has received considerable acclaim and I know several friends that highly value McCabe’s performances.
 
There is what the record company describes as ‘Free bonus content with this CD’ yet despite visiting the Warner Classics website I was unable to access any bonus content for the purposes of this review. From my experience this type of ‘free content’ lasts only a few minutes and seems to be included merely as a marketing ploy to get holders of the disc to visit the Warner Classics website. Furthermore any ‘bonus content’ burned off the company website presents the problem of storage.   
 
Recorded earlier this year at Ekaterinburg in Russia the sound quality delivered by the Warner Classics engineers is of demonstration standard. The booklet notes from Guy Rickards are authoritative and add to the merits of this impressive disc. In this recital Berezovsky displays magnificent keyboard mastery and a consistently strong sense of musical purpose alongside a satisfying range of character and imagination. This disc dispels any entrenched belief that Hindemith was composer of dry, stuffy and impenetrable academic music.
 
Michael Cookson
 

 



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