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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by C.M von Weber (1943) [20:33]
Concerto for violin and orchestra (1939) [29:25]
Concert Music for string orchestra and brass instruments, Op.50 (1930) [17:25]
Midori (violin)
NDR Symphony Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. live, 23 December 2011 (Concert Music) and October 2012 (Violin Concerto, Symphonic Metamorphosis), Laeiszhalle, Hamburg
ONDINE ODE 1214-2 [67:23]

2013 saw the 50th anniversary year of the death of German composer Paul Hindemith. His representation in the concert hall still relies almost exclusively on the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943) and maybe also on the Symphony: Mathis der Maler (1934). Yet there are many delights to discover in his prolific output. A number of fine examples are to be found on the wonderful recent release on Myrios Classics of Works for Viola and Orchestra Vol. 1 which I made one of my ‘Records of the Year’ for 2013. Now Ondine has released a disc containing three of Hindemith’s most impressive works under Christoph Eschenbach who was NDR Hamburg’s chief conductor from 1998 to 2004.
It was the Russian dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine who requested that Hindemith write a ballet score based on themes by Carl Maria von Weber. He discontinued the ballet project and in 1943 reused the music in a Symphonic Metamorphosis. In effect this is a compact four movement symphony using variations on a number of Weber themes. It was the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Artur Rodziński who premièred it in 1944.
Eschenbach obtains a fine response from the NDRSO in which ebullience and sensitivity are combined. There is plenty of force and energy given to the opening Allegro and the dense writing of the Turandot, Scherzo has a carnival feel. It is here played with unerring buoyancy. A highly attractive flow to the Andantino evokes a lengthy desert caravan making its way across the sands towards an oasis. A striking brass fanfare opens the Finale:Marsch always reminding me of the main theme from John Williams’ Indiana Jones scores. At times I detect echoes of Mahler too. Credit is due to the NDR brass. They play magnificently throughout. As good as this is it would have to be my second choice behind the stunningly played 1995 Berlin Philharmonie account from the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon.

Hindemith’s Violin Concerto deserves a better fate than lying on the fringes of the concerto repertoire. It would take a brave decision to programme it work instead of a far more familiar concerto. The three movement score was composed in Switzerland whilst Hindemith was in exile from Nazi Germany. It was soloist Ferdinand Helmann who introduced the score in 1940 in Amsterdam with the Concertgebouw under Willem Mengelberg. In the opening movement Mäßig bewegte Halbe I love the contrast between the steely beauty of Midori’s violin part and the often loud and joyous brass-laden writing. Marked Langsam the central movement is the heart of the score. Here Midori’s generous lyrical line is suffused with a strong sense of introspection possibly reflecting the composer’s yearning for his homeland. At 6:21-7:17 the brooding spell is interrupted by a highly dramatic loud brassy passage. There’s a jaunty and outgoing Finale: Lebhaft with a bravura ending. We would however have benefited from Midori bringing greater intensity and vigour especially in the outer movements. I say this in comparison with the heightened engagement to be heard in the penetrating account by David Oistrakh in his classic 1962 recording with the LSO under the composer’s baton (Decca).

Completed in 1930, the Concert Music for string orchestra and brass instruments, Op. 50 was one of a number of commissions to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It is scored for 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba and full string orchestra. Serge Koussevitzky conducted the première in Boston in 1931. It is in two movements the first of which is marked Mäßig schnell, mit Kraft - Sehr breit, aber stets fließend. This is memorable for characterful playing and potent energy from the resolute NDR strings. The whole movement is evocative of a stormy sea voyage. The second movement is marked Lebhaft - Langsam - Im ersten Zeitmaß. Lebhaft. Its briskly played here. A slower and rather melancholic central section is quite expertly intoned by the magnificent brass. In this score the recordings that I most commonly encounter are those from the San Francisco Symphony/Herbert Blomstedt on Decca, and the Czech Philharmonic/Jirí Belohlavek and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier both on Chandos. The NDRSO playing is the equal of any of those recordings.
Captured live at Laeiszhalle, Hamburg these splendid performances are decently recorded being especially well balanced but without achieving the last word in vivid clarity. The audience is on their best behaviour and no applause has been left in.
There is much excellent music to enjoy in this Ondine release especially the performance of the Concert Music but I would be inclined to look elsewhere for the Symphonic Metamorphosis and certainly for the Violin Concerto.
Michael Cookson 

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