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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Complete Works for Viola - Vol. 1
Der Schwanendreher (The Swan Turner) concerto after old folk songs for viola and small orchestra [26:47]
Trauermusik (Music of Mourning) for string orchestra with solo viola [7:40]
Kammermusik, No. 5, Op. 36, No. 4 for solo viola and large chamber orchestra [19:23]
Konzertmusik, Op. 48a for solo viola and large chamber orchestra (early edition) [26:07]
Tabea Zimmermann (viola)
Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin/Hans Graf
Recorded: August 2012 Jesus Christ Church, Berlin/Dahlem, Germany

We are often told how significant a composer Paul Hindemith is in the annals of twentieth-century music. On the other hand we rarely see his greatly underrated works included on concert programmes, especially in the UK. If it wasn’t for the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943) and the Symphony: Mathis der Maler Hindemith’s music would be heard live hardly at all.
I found this Myrios Classics Hindemith release to be a glorious surprise, near revelatory. Twice in recent years I have attended concerts in Berlin and seen renowned violist Tabea Zimmermann play both the Berlioz Harold in Italy with the LSO and Wolfgang Rihm’s Viola ConcertoÜber die LinieIV with the Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin (DSO Berlin). I witnessed at first hand just how expert a musician she is. For each of the last three years I have been fortunate to have seen the DSO in concert in Berlin and Dresden. On each occasion the orchestra was in quite marvellous form. I remain puzzled why this orchestra is not as celebrated as the quality of its playing deserves. Having firsthand knowledge of the excellence of the performers and of Hindemith’s striking music my expectations were naturally high. In truth they were exceeded. This Hindemith release is quite stunning. 

Der Schwanendreher is a concerto after old folk songs for viola and small orchestra and was written in 1935. It incorporates folk melodies into the writing was premiered in 1935 at Amsterdam by the Concertgebouw under Willem Mengelberg with the composer as soloist. It seems that the title was taken from the folk song ‘Seid ihr nicht der Schwanendreher’ (Aren’t you the Swan Turner?). Hindemith uses this in the third movement. I especially enjoyed Zimmermann’s playing of the mellow and rather relaxing and even meditative central movement. A brisker central section with attractive burbling woodwind is marvellously performed by the Berlin players. 

In 1936 whilst Hindemith was in England to play his Der Schwanendreher the death of King George V was announced. Realising that the generally cheerful Der Schwanendreher had been rendered unsuitable by the solemn occasion Hindemith composed in a few hours the score Trauermusik (Music of Mourning) for string orchestra with solo viola. The score is cast in four brief movements played without a break. A performance of Trauermusik was quickly arranged for a BBC radio broadcast in London played by the BBC Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boult with the Hindemith as soloist. Here Zimmermann’s playing feels genuine compassionate and is suitably melancholic yet contains reasonably appealing melodies. 

Scored for solo viola and large chamber orchestra the Kammermusik No. 5, Op. 36/4 is scored for a substantial number of woodwind and brass players. It was written in 1927. With the composer as soloist the work was introduced in 1927 at the Krolloper Berlin with the Staatskapelle under Otto Klemperer. In this appealing four movement work the viola is required to play almost continuously. The extended second movement Langsam is particularly effective with the soloist maintaining a wistful and rather yearning quality against dark and generous wind accompaniment. I especially enjoyed the entertainingly boisterous final movement Variante eines Militärmarsches. It includes, rather tongue-in-cheek, a rather tawdry Bavarian military march. 

Bearing a dedication to ‘Darius und Madeleine Milhaud’, theKonzertmusik, Op. 48a is scored for solo viola and large chamber orchestra. It seems that the Berliner Philharmoniker under Furtwängler with Hindemith himself playing viola gave the première of the original six movement version of the work in March 1930 in Hamburg. A revised five movement version was given in September that year at Graz played by the Städtisches Orchester Graz under Oswald Kabasta with the composer again as soloist. The original six movement version, which was only published in 1993, is played here by Zimmerman. It is claimed in the booklet notes that this is the world premiere recording of the original edition. Prominent throughout, Zimmerman brings an intense and heartbreakingly yearning quality to the second movement which is marked Ruhig gehend. I was struck by the deep sense of introspection that permeates the fifth movement Langsam. Schreitende Achtel.
There is a heartfelt passion and robust edge to Zimmermann’s playing which blows away the cobwebs and brings these works very much to life. Making a highly sympathetic partner the excellent DSO Berlin is warmly expressive and well detailed. Austrian conductor Hans Graf holds everything together with confidence. I am delighted by this wonderfully clear SACD with its vivid and warm sound which I played on my standard CD player. The slightly forward balance of the solo viola is very much to my taste. This is certainly a ‘Record of the Month’. I’m so enthusiastic about this release that will definitely be one of my ‘Records of the Year’.
Michael Cookson

Previous review: Dominy Clements (October 2013 Recording of the Month)