Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Orfeo (1607; reconstructed Hindemith 1943)
Giovanni GABRIELI (c.1554/1557–1612)
Virtute magna (Symphoniae Sacrae) [3:21]; Sonata octavi toni [3:14]; Nunc dimittis (Symphoniae Sacrae) [3:14]
Gino Sinemberghi (tenor) – Orfeo; Uta Graf (soprano) – Euridice; Waldemar Kmentt (tenor) – Apollo; Norman Foster (bass) – Caronte; Gertrud Schretter (soprano) – Speranza; Patricia Brinton (soprano) - La Musica; Mona Paulee (soprano) – Proserpina; Frederick Guthrie (bass) – Plutone; Ana Maria Schmoczer (soprano) – Messaggiera; Dagmar Hermann (contralto) – Primo Pastore; Hans Strohbauer (tenor) – Secondo Pastore; Wolfram Mertz (bass) – Terzo Pastore
Members of Wiener Singakedemie and Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Paul Hindemith
rec. 3 June 1954, live, Grossen Konzerthaussaal, Vienna
MUSIC AND ARTS CD-1237 [56:20 + 52:39]
In June 1954, in Vienna, Hindemith performed his ‘period reconstruction’ of the premiere of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, one that he had undertaken a decade earlier. The intention therefore was not to ‘arrange’ it for contemporary taste, but adventurously for the time to include an organ, harpsichord, lutes, strings and other instrumentation including a complement of winds.
The participating members of the Vienna Symphony included such future luminaries as cellist Nikolaus Harnoncourt, harpsichordist Anton Heiller, and lute players Karl Scheit and Robert Brojer amongst others. Hindemith introduced the performance from the stage and his four minute speech has been preserved. He then performs three pieces by Gabrieli to preface Orfeo. Two are choral, and derive from Symphoniae Sacrae. Virtute magna is a warmly textured motet whilst the Nunc dimittis receives a big-boned reading. In between comes the instrumental Sonata octavi toni with its stately winds.
The performance of Orfeo is notable for a number of reasons. We can appreciate the bracing wind contribution – no shrinking violets – as well as the sinewy texture of the strings. This must have been something of an aural challenge to mid-1950s Vienna, where whipped cream tended to dominate. Nevertheless Hindemith’s cultivation of some tart and evocative sounds is very descriptive and engaging. The flute playing gives a particular lift, and the opportunity to trill and swoop is a constant and diverting delight. As so often is the case, the instrumental playing is at odds with the vocal performances, which remained very much predicated on can-belto lines. This is not to impugn the principal singers, who were all solid artists, though hardly outstanding ones, more to point out the divergent aesthetic at work in the performance.
Gino Sinemberghi is the Orfeo and, within the compass of his own background, he sings well enough, though he’s rather beefy. His bel canto qualities can be sampled via Vi ricorda o bosch’ombrosi. Uta Graf similarly brings old school commitment to Euridice – a strong, though not pungent presence. The other singers offer solid, occasionally workmanlike support. As if to reinforce the point, the (female) prompter has a busy night, and there is plenty of audible stagecraft. The men in the chorus are sometimes rather weak, when exposed – as they are in Ma s’il nostro gioir; the women have fruitier vibratos.
The notes are predominantly in German.
This is by no means a first appearance for this performance on CD. In fact there are already at least two competing versions on Archipel ANDRCD9069 and Walhall WAL 9069, though I’ve not had access to them for comparative purposes. This little slice of history will be a very specialised purchase, but it does bear the whiff of something new, and exploratory.
Bears the whiff of something new, and exploratory.