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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Konzertmusik for brass and strings, Op. 50 (1930) [17:45]
Symphony Mathis der Maler (1933-1934) [26:55]
Symphonic Metamorphosis after themes by Carl Maria von Weber (1943) [21:18]
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. December 2012, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, UK
HYPERION CDA68006 [65:58]

This is a very sensible programme; the Konzertmusik isn’t the most endearing of Hindemith’s creations, but Mathis and the Symphonic Metamorphosis do have an instant and lasting appeal. All three pieces have fared well on record; among notable versions of the Konzertmusik are the composer’s own (Warner), Bernstein’s (Sony) and, more recently, Blomstedt’s on Decca and Bělohlávek’s on Chandos. The remaining works are equally well served, although Blomstedt’s San Francisco coupling is the pick of the bunch.
 
Hindemith wrote Konzertmusik for piano, viola, harps, winds and brass, all of which represent a stern, very deliberate reaction to post-Romantic warmth and effusiveness. I do find these pieces rather dry - dour even - although there’s no denying their compositional strength and, occasionally, a flash of feeling. The first thing that struck me about this new recording was the bright, quite forward sound; I’ve never been very enthusiastic about this venue’s acoustics, but in this case they give the brass a suitable edge.
 
The Mathis Symphony - a musical depiction of Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece - is an altogether more engaging work, whose crowning perorations can’t fail to please. Blomstedt and his San Francisco players have the benefit of a spacious, detailed and weighty recording; not only that, the American band are in terrific, highly virtuosic form, and that makes for a truly epic performance of this fine score. Brabbins looks inward - he’s more devotional than ecstatic - which has its own rewards; that said, the BBCSSO don’t sound nearly as sonorous or as incisive in the tuttis, so anyone hoping for a sonic tour de force - perhaps even an epiphany or two - may feel short-changed.
 
The same goes for this new Symphonic Metamorphosis. Blomstedt’s account is vivid and propulsive, and I much admire the SFSO’s corporate sheen and impact. In his favour Brabbins brings out the work’s more rigorous, meditative elements, and that too has its rewards. The only downside is that momentum tends to flag at times; and, as responsive and tidy as the BBCSSO’s playing undoubtedly is, it doesn’t come close to the brio and brilliance of those mighty San Franciscans. In particular I miss the sheer wallop and weight of the latter. The recording is one of Decca’s finest, too.
 
So, a qualified welcome for this new disc; thanks to Hyperion for their continuing commitment to this composer. As for the indefatigable Martyn Brabbins he’s a maestro who is never less than engaging and is clearly committed to the music. Indeed, we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that unforgettable Gothic (review). Gavin Plumley’s very readable liner-notes are well up to the standards of the house.
 
Not as spectacular as Blomstedt; more probing, though.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei


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