music concerts by Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
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Mahler 9 Elder
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Ritchie Symphony 4
Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief
Paul HINDEMITH (1895–1963)
6 Lieder from Das Marienleben op. 27 (1922/1923) [20:17]
Regina WITTEMEIER (b. 1956)
Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen – acht Lieder nach
Rainer Maria Rilke, op.34 (2003) [25:57]
(soprano), Richard Wiedl (tenor), Fabian Dobler (piano)
rec. 11-13 September 2005 (Hindemith); 8-10 February 2005 (Wittemeier).
I had a friend
who studied with Hindemith in Berlin in the 1930s and she told
me that he was one of the funniest men she ever met; what a
shame he never showed that side of himself in his music. To
some extent this is true. Hindemith was a deeply serious musician
and sometimes his seriousness can appear to be dourness – the Konzertmusik
for piano, brass and two harps, or the Octet – but
so many of his works overflow with good humour, sometimes slightly
heavy-handed to be sure, but humour it most definitely is.
Try the delightful Flute Sonata, or the overtly comic Militärmusik
Minimax. This is too often missed because we are told he
is a bit staid and, let’s be honest, dull. In general his music
is well crafted and always has something of interest in it,
not to mention good tunes. He shouldn’t be written off just
because of a common misconception – after all, you wouldn’t
write somebody off just because you disliked the size of his
Das Marienleben is
a large-scale song-cycle comprising fifteen songs and playing
for a little over sixty minutes. Here we have numbers 1, 2,
3, 8, 10 and 15. Between 1939 and 1959 Hindemith orchestrated
these six Lieder and this is probably why they were chosen
for inclusion on this disk. The poems, by Rilke, tell the story
of the Virgin Mary, from birth to death, in the most beautiful,
lyric, poetry; words ripe for setting to music. Hindemith achieves
the miraculous, as did Schubert in his three great, late, cycles,
creating an hour’s worth of music full of incident and variety.
He responds fully to the words, creating some of his best music,
certainly some of his best vocal music. It’s not easy to sing
as the vocal line is wide-ranging and angular. The music is
impulsive, sometimes expressionistic and bordering on the atonal.
The piano writing is equally challenging but it supports the
voice expertly and the cycle is a true duo partnership. Despite
the obvious difficulties there is a feeling of the baroque
cantata about this music.
after the première, Hindemith started revising the cycle, eventually
publishing a new version in 1948. The revisions remove some
of the angularity of the original and rounded off the corners.
Many, including Arnold Schönberg and Glenn Gould, have stated their preference
for the first version. Certainly this is more exciting and
extrovert. The six Lieder presented here are given in the original.
sings very well, easily dealing with the difficult vocal line.
Her performance makes me wish this disk had been a recording
of her performing the complete cycle.
Regina Wittemeier’s Ich
lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen – acht Lieder nach Rainer
Maria Rilke is a brave attempt to marry Rilke’s lyric
poetry with the musical language of the 21st century.
For me, it doesn’t work, I simply find these songs without
interest. It’s one thing to write music which is abstract
and relates only to itself, but when a composer starts to
set words to music, he/she has a grave responsibility to
the poet. Setting words to music which goes against the poetry
is a dangerous way to illuminate - and if you set words to
music you must believe that you can, in some way, enhance
the words - the poet’s work.
My problem with
Wittemeier’s composition is that she seems uninterested, indeed
distanced, from the words she is setting. A case in point is
the second song – Aus einem April – the poem of which
consists of thirteen lines. If you read the poem it flows freely,
whereas Wittemeier sets each line as a separate entity, thus
losing the sense of the words. Rilke, indeed any poet, deserves
better than this. Richard Wiedl sings very well, has a very
attractive, lyrical, voice, and puts a persuasive case for
these songs but, ultimately, the lack of true lyricism lets
him down. Fabian Dobler accompanies both singers well and his
virtuosity in the Hindemith Lieder is breathtaking.
This is the first
work I have heard by Wittemeier and it is obvious that she
has something to say. I would welcome the chance to hear more
of her work, perhaps her choral Mass in G minor, op.8
or Wahrheitspsalmen op.46. And
what of her instrumental works such as the Concerto for
trumpet, organ and percussion, op.41 or the Piano Sonata,
op.35? I hope that we will be given the chance to sample some
more of her work in the future.
It is unfortunate
for Wittemeier that she had her songs coupled with the selection
from Hindemith. The older composer is such a strong personality
that it takes an equally robust composer to stand on his/her
own feet by the side of such competition.
In the long run
it’s Das Marienleben which is of most interest. There
is a fine recording of the 1923 version by Russian/Canadian
soprano Roxolana Roslak with Glenn Gould (SONY SM2K 52674),
recorded in the mid-1970s, which won the 1979 Juno Award. For
the revised version there is a good live recording, made in
Berlin on 9 December 1953, by Erna Berger with Gerhard Puchelt
(ARTONE 222603 (4CDs)). There’s also a recording of both versions
in a 2 CD set by Judith Kellock with Zita Carno (Koch International
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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