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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Symphony Mathis der Maler (1933-34) [30:42]
Symphony in E flat (1940) [36:39]
NDR Sinfonieorchester/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. live, Laeiszhalle, Hamburg, Germany, 11 and 14 April 2013; Kieler Schloss, Kiel, Germany, 13 and 15 April 2013 ONDINE ODE 1275-2 [67:32]
Dan Morgan reviewed a download of this disc and was disappointed that no written material accompanied the music. I can reassure him that the conventional CD has a fine booklet with photos and good notes on the works by Luitgard Schader. As to the performances themselves, I would describe them as Brucknerian. Eschenbach’s accounts are slower and more blended than such others as Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra (Sony) and Blomstedt’s San Francisco Symphony (Decca) renditions of Mathis der Maler and Tortelier’s BBC Philharmonic (Chandos) one of the E flat Symphony. They seem more Germanic, but have great depth, and the orchestral execution for each work is unexceptionable. The full-bodied sound Ondine provides is appropriate to Eschenbach’s more massive interpretations. Yet, one can hear plenty of detail in these performances, especially at the lower end of the orchestral spectrum.
My allegiance to Blomstedt for Mathis der Maler remains unshaken. He is just that much more exciting and maintains a better flow throughout the symphony. Next to either Blomstedt or Eschenbach, Ormandy seems lightweight and ordinary. Eschenbach has his own virtues, however, in revealing details in the woodwinds and brass in a way to make them seem fresh. His orchestra gives its all and the brass chorales come across with exemplary power. As a whole, his Mathis leaves a very positive impression and can serve as a viable complement to Blomstedt.
The Symphony in E flat is more problematic. For me, the best movement is the first and shortest one. Here Eschenbach’s tempo is similar to those of Tortelier and Bernstein (Sony). Bernstein’s recording of this symphony has been greatly praised by some, but I have trouble getting past the excruciatingly harsh sound of the CD. The fanfare beginning the movement is auspicious, if a bit more deliberate, under Eschenbach, after which the orchestra takes off like a rocket. Tortelier is more evenhanded, but I find Eschenbach irresistible here. Then the funeral march slow movement tells an entirely different story. This movement might try anyone’s patience, but Eschenbach unbelievably drags it out for over fourteen minutes as compared to Tortelier’s 8:45 and Bernstein’s 10:28. He may be justified in that Hindemith marks it Sehr langsam, but at such a slow tempo it loses all sense of pulse. The final two movements are again more normal tempo-wise and, with the exception of the second movement, Eschenbach does all he can for this work. With his excellent orchestral performance and powerful recording, I will still listen to this new account from time to time.
These are supposedly live performances, but there is no indication of an audience present. Overall, there is something attractive and convincing in Eschenbach’s weighty Hindemith. Even though neither is a first choice for me, I will return to them for a different take on these pieces.