Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Ludus Tonalis (1942) [50:05]
Suite 1922, op.26 (1922) [19:06]
John McCabe (piano)
rec. The Warehouse, Waterloo, London, 18-20 July 1995. DDD
HYPERION HELIOS CDH 55413 [69:13]
Pianophiles with good memories may well recognise the cover of this new release:
it is all but identical to the original Hyperion issue in 1996. All that has
changed, aside from the 'Helios' trimming, is the catalogue number (previously
CDA 66824) and the price - Helios being Hyperion's budget reissue banner.
Ludus Tonalis is Hindemith's last piano work and his tribute, in a sense,
to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Between an opening three-part Praeludium
in C and its final mirror-image Postludium, Hindemith takes the listener
on an epic, but highly accessible journey through a panoply of fugues, twelve
in three parts, and eleven interludes, each of which modulates from one key
to the next along. Hindemith subtitled the work 'contrapuntal, tonal and technical
studies for the piano', but such an academic epithet says little about the scintillating
nature of a work of cornucopian imagination and ingenuity.
Hindemith grew to dislike the spirited Suite 1922, which he later said
was "really not an honourable ornament in the music history of our time, and
it depresses an old man rather seriously to see that the sins of his youth impress
people more than his better creations". Its five sections are popular dance
forms of that period in America, where he was resident, including a foxtrot,
Boston and ragtime, which he had elsewhere referred to as "junk [...] When I
run out of any decent ideas I always write such things." Yet Hindemith deals
with the pieces in a harmonically more sophisticated and indeed ironic way than
is seen in Shostakovich's popular 'Jazz' and 'Variety' Suites, and overall the
Suite makes an appealing companion to the more heavyweight Ludus.
John McCabe was in his mid-fifties when he made this recording, and quite possibly
at the height of his prowess as a pianist. Hindemith's music is much easier
on the listener than on the pianist, but McCabe, with his composer's ear and
insight, makes light of the technical difficulties to put many of the surprisingly
expressive elements within the listener's grasp.
As far as sound quality goes, Hyperion are not always at their best in orchestral
recordings, with a certain muddy quality finding its way into string sections
especially, but on chamber and solo discs there is no such problem, and audio
quality here is very good. The booklet notes are unchanged from old, with Robert
Matthew-Walker's fairly long essay still delivering the goods. The booklet can
be downloaded for free from Hyperion's website here.
Boris Berezovsky's excellent recording of the same two works on Warner Classics
(2564634122, 2006) is still widely available, whilst in Siegfried Mauser's recent
recording of Hindemith's complete piano works on the German WERGO label, volumes
I and IV (WER 61812, 62502) would both be required to furnish little more than
the same, but at twice the cost of the Warner. With new Helios releases selling
for under £5 at many online outlets, this represents a substantial bargain
for all collectors of the key piano works of the 20th century.
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
A substantial bargain for all collectors of the key piano works of the 20th