Hindemith wrote Das Marienleben – to Rilke’s
poetry – in 1922-23. The fifteen poems had been written in 1912
but though Hindemith early absorbed their narrative of the Virgin
Mary from life to death, he kept returning to the songs and
revising them. This was primarily in the light of his own compositional
development, so that he revised the songs in the mid 1930s and
then again for publication in 1948. It’s the post-War revision
that’s performed here.
In some cases earlier songs are ditched whilst
others are left untouched. The principal specific changes relate
to singability. Though he needed to inject a tension between
the voice and piano there were occasions where he overbalanced
and revision clarified his exploration of Rilke’s text. One
wonders how the first performers of the 1922-23 edition coped
with the inherent technical demands, which are almost constant.
They are still very considerable in the 1948 revision.
From the first song Geburt Mariae we can
hear what a technically and expressively demanding sing this
is going to be. Hindemith pushes the voice ungratefully high
in places but one notes that these are places that exactly mirror
the greatest strains and tensions in Rilke’s poetry. Elisabeth
Meyer-Topsøe proves resilient here, reserving real communicative
power when most necessary. In the third song for instance, Mariae
Verkündigung she responds strongly to the urgency of the
writing that talks of the ‘quite without mating’ in the Annunciation.
Here her tensile speed and commanding vocalism, as well as the
fine exploration of Hindemith’s rather brusque piano writing
by Per Salo, is excellent.
A word about Salo, who is a thoroughly convincing
proponent. Listen to the terse compression of his contributions
or to, say, the gruff underlining of Argwohn Josephs.
Here we also find that Meyer-Topsøe perfectly captures the element
of hectoring, almost abstracted compaction that the vocal line
demands. Or, too, the flourishes of the next song Verkündigung
über den Hirten where the piano writing is almost macabre.
Rast auf der Flucht is a struggle – it is for most singers
– but the brittle fugal Von der Hochzeit zu Kana is well
characterised. And so is the melancholy and transfixing Vor
der Passion one of the few expressly slow movements.
There have been other recordings of the 1948
version of the work of course. Prominent among them is the Annelies
Kupper-Carl Seeman performance on Christophorous 74612 – they
premiered the new version and this dates from 1949. There’s
also the Judith Kellock and Zita Carno performance on Koch 373812,
though that contains both the 1922-23 version and the 1948 revision
and is a two CD set. Nevertheless this new performance is powerfully
expressive, technically very accomplished and has really excellent