This CD offers a very logical coupling of, arguably, Hindemith’s
three most approachable and colourful scores. Yet it’s fairly
rare to bring them all together on one disc: there’s one other
such collection of which I’m aware – a Decca release by Herbert
Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony, which is actually
a three-disc set. That’s been warmly
praised by Rob Barnett but I haven’t heard it. However,
the non-specialist collector may not want such a large dose
of Hindemith as Blomstedt offers in which case this new BIS
offering could be just the thing.
I first heard the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl
Maria von Weber back in the late 1960s in Claudio Abbado’s
fine LSO recording (review)
– I also first experienced Janác(ek’s Sinfonietta through
the same Decca LP. A little while later I had the good fortune
to get to know the Hindemith piece from the inside, as it were,
during an orchestral weekend directed by Arthur Butterworth.
It’s a splendid, inventive work, which exploits the orchestra
quite brilliantly. Symphonic Metamorphosis is a wonderful
showpiece even if it does labour under one of the most (ironically?)
ponderous titles in the repertoire. Neschling leads a good performance.
In the Turandot Scherzo much of the sometimes teeming
background detail is brought out. There’s some expert woodwind
playing to enjoy in the Andantino, especially from
the principal flautist. When we get to the Marsch I
wondered if Neschling holds the first part of the movement on
slightly too tight a rein. However, on reflection I think his
approach is patient and the brilliant music that comes out of
the second theme has more dash. Then, however, when I turned
to Leonard Bernstein’s 1989 recording (DG), assembled from live
performances with the Israel Philharmonic, it was noticeable
that Bernstein’s account is much more vivid in many respects.
The brass fugue in II is tremendous and Bernstein is electrifying
in IV. That said, both performance and recording are more “in
your face” than is the case with Neschling and some may prefer
the relative restraint of the Brazilian performance and the
more subtle recorded sound. Incidentally, the composer’s own
recordings the Symphonic Metamorphosis and of Mathis,
both dating from 1955 but still sounding remarkably good, were
included in an indispensable boxed set by DG a few years ago.
Rob Barnett rightly enthused
over it. I’m unsure if it remains in the catalogue but if
it’s still available it’s well worth snapping up. It’s interesting
that Hindemith himself sets off like a whippet in I and he’s
also exciting, if less high octane than Bernstein, in IV.
Mathis der Maler is one of Hindemith’s most engaging
scores and Neschling does it well. In the first movement, Engelkonzert,
he obtains some excellent playing, which is enhanced by the
realistic BIS recording. I like the way that the conductor keeps
the orchestral textures clear at all times. At 6:26 both the
interpretation and the recording expand very naturally into
the climax of the movement. Bernstein’s aforementioned Hindemith
disc also includes Mathis. His conception of the start
of this movement is broader and he goes in for more in the way
of point-making than Neschling but is the Brazilian’s way with
the music more natural? On the other hand, Bernstein’s account
of the main allegro is the more dynamic of the two. Hindemith,
in his 1955 reading, displays real energy in the allegro.
In the second movement, Grablegung, Neschling gets
his orchestra to play with no little refinement – and the recorded
sound matches that refinement. There’s restrained dignity on
show here which I find both appealing and also appropriate to
the music. By comparison I wonder if Bernstein overplays his
hand just a bit. The Versuchung des heiligen Antonius
(The temptation of St Anthony) is the most complex
movement of the symphony and accounts for about half its total
length. It’s also the most dramatic section. Neschling’s handling
of the music is impressive in its own right. His string section
is very persuasive in the lyrical stretches while the contributions
of the woodwind and brass are incisive. However, Bernstein’s
performance is biting and vivid, suggesting to me that Neschling,
good though he is, could get more out of the score. Bear in
mind that, once again, Bernstein’s performance has a certain
“in your face” quality that may not be to all tastes.
In his valuable notes Malcolm MacDonald comments that Nobilissima
Visione is a “direct successor” to Mathis der Maler
and so it sounds in John Neschling’s performance; it makes excellent
sense to juxtapose these scores on disc. Neschling brings the
right degree of gravitas to the reflective introduction to I.
When this gives way to the Rondo the way in which the textures
are carefully crafted and balanced pays dividends. In the lively
sections of II there’s some deft playing to admire. The final
movement is an impressive passacaglia. Here Neschling delivers
a reading that manages to imbue the music with appropriate weight
without ever sounding portly.
This is an astutely planned disc, which brings together some
of Hindemith’s most attractive and impressive orchestral music.
My comparative listening to Bernstein and to Hindemith himself
suggested that Neschling’s interpretations aren’t the last word
on the subject. These reference points suggest that he could,
perhaps, deliver more. The performances are, however, satisfying
in their own right and I enjoyed them. There’s a good deal of
accomplished and colourful playing from the São Paulo Symphony
I listened to this hybrid SACD in CD format. The BIS sound is
very good, conveying a commendable amount of detail – important
in Hindemith’s often busy scoring – yet reporting a believable
concert hall acoustic. This collection is well worth your attention.
of the download by Dan Morgan & Brian Wilson