Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Kammermusik No. 1 for 12 solo instruments Op. 24 No. 1 (1921) [14:53]
Kammermusik No. 2 for piano and 12 solo instruments Op. 63 No. 1 (1924-5) [19:43]
Kammermusik No. 3, for cello and 10 solo instruments Op. 36 No. 2 (1924-5) [17:39]
Kammermusik No. 4, for violin and large chamber orchestra Op. 36 No. 3 (1924-5) [22:00]
Kammermusik No. 5, for viola and large chamber orchestra Op. 36 No. 4 (1927) [19:17]
Kammermusik No. 6, for viola d’amore and chamber orchestra Op. 46 No. 1 (1927) [17:35]
Kammermusik No. 7, for organ Op. 46 No. 2 (1927) [16:11]
Gérard van Blerk (piano)
Anner Bylsma (cello)
Jaap Schröder (violin)
Paul Doktor (viola)
Joke Vermeulen (viola d’amore)
Albert de Klerk (organ)
Concerto Amsterdam
rec. September/December 1967, January 1968, Felix Meritis, Amsterdam and Concertgebouw Haarlem (Op.46 No.2)
WARNER CLASSICS APEX 2564 67318-9 [74:40 + 54:02]

I’ve known and loved the Concertgebouw recording of this cycle of remarkable works with Riccardo Chailly at the helm (see review) since it was first released, and as a complete cycle this recording is pretty hard to beat. Despite the vintage of the Concerto Amsterdam recording, which I had previously only known by reputation, this Warner re-release has me agape.

We’re now almost spoilt for budget re-release choice in this repertoire it would seem. EMI has its cycle with Claudio Abbado which includes a very fine recording of Der Schwanendreher. The Chailly Decca recording likewise is available in re-release form with the slightly less interesting Kleine Kammermusik wind quintet as a filler, but still tipping the balance in terms of recording quality, soloists and sheer verve. This Concerto Amsterdam recording counts as ‘historic’ these days, but with one or two minor caveats this is a remarkably fine document which still sounds pretty fresh, and most certainly preserves performances of the highest order.

Kammermusik No.1 is a big favourite in a top performance, epitomising Hindemith’s spiky wit from the opening ostinati to the final whoop from a slide whistle. The quality of the playing is second to none, and one or two moments of dated sounding vibrato aside sounding really up to the minute. The piano solo of Kammermusik No.2 does sound a bit boxy which is a little odd, as the rest of the instruments sound fine. The Felix Meritis acoustic is quite a big one, but suits this punchy wind writing well. The balance for Anner Bylsma’s big-boned cello is good too, mixing well with the other instruments rather than dominating the picture. The energy in the playing sparks and flies in the Lebhaft und lustig second movement, and the funereal tread of the following movement is richly expressive, despite some edgy intonation here and there. Kammermusik No.4 is for violin solo and large chamber ensemble and is on a larger scale than most of the other works in the series. The winds are very evocative of the period, with a hint of Kurt Weill in the sound, though Hindemith maintains his neo-classical objectivity, with cool expression in the slow movements, angular and rhythmic directness in the swifter movements. The final movement is a quiet but testing So schnell wie möglich non-stop line for the violin solo with little proto-Shostakovich interjections from the band. Early music pioneer Jaap Schröder is perhaps not the strongest of soloists for this piece, but he does a decent enough job, and the recording balance is once again very realistic.

Disc two brings us Kammermusik No.5 for Hindemith’s own instrument, the viola, plus another large chamber orchestra. Virtuoso elements for the solo are to the fore, and the emotionally laden Langsam movement is one of the most heartfelt of the entire set. Paul Doktor’s playing is expressive, but his tone is ‘troubled’ by a vibrato which doesn’t really let up even where the music would seem to demand a more open sound. The musicians clearly relish the final military march, which closes the work in a rollicking satire. The almost defunct viola d’amore is another instrument favoured by Hindemith, and the Kammermusik No.6 was also written for his own use as a performer. This piece has a generally sunny aspect, and Joke Vermeulen’s light and refined solo sound suits this very well indeed. Her cadenzas in the Variationen are fine indeed. The final Kammermusik No.7 takes us to a different location with an even bigger acoustic. I can’t see the organ in the centre of that great concert hall in Haarlem without superimposing a striking and frightening image: that of a huge Swastika draped over it, photographed during an NSB gathering at the hall in May 1944. A mere 24 years later and renowned Dutch organist Albert de Klerk brings the voice of the instrument to vivid life in this fine recording, with the solo balanced well with a well intonated chamber orchestra – not an easy trick to bring off. I like Hindemith’s writing for organ, and this is a cracking concerto with which to end the series.

If I have one criticism of this release it is the entire lack of any booklet notes or documentation about the recording or musicians. I know this is a budget release, but I can hardly imagine it would have cost much to re-print whatever texts had gone with earlier Teldec editions. Other labels manage to keep up standards in this regard, so there really is no excuse in this case. That said, if you see a copy of this, buy it without a second thought, even if you already have Chailly’s or Abbado’s recordings. These performances have a character which brings an entire mood and period to life – one which the all too frequently homogenised and squeaky-clean perfection of today can rarely rival, and one which you feel brings us closer to the actual composer than many an alternative.

Dominy Clements

Brings us closer to the composer than many an alternative.