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CD Review

Paul Hindemith

The Complete Recordings by The Composer

  • Concerto for Orchestra, Op. 38
  • Konzertmusik, Op. 49 *
  • Symphony "Mathis der Maler"
  • Symphonic Dances
  • Theme & Variations "The Four Temperaments" **
  • Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber
  • Ballet Overture "Amor und Psyche"
  • Symphony "Die Harmonie der Welt"
* Monique Haas, piano
** Hans Olie, piano
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Hindemith
Deutsche Grammophon Original Masters 474771-2 3CDs Monaural
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Of the great composers who also took up conducting in the 20th century following the deaths of Mahler and Rachmaninoff, none were especially talented save for Benjamin Britten, who ironically felt uncomfortable conducting the work of others, but nevertheless excelled in a variety of music. Copland and Stravinsky were certainly not great conductors on these shores, and in Germany, both Hindemith and Strauss were fairly dreadful. However, Hindemith could at least conduct his own music, something which held true for Stravinsky, but frankly eluded Copland and Strauss.

These performances are captured in fine mono with an adequate Berlin Philharmonic in tow. Hindemith rarely gets much attention these days; few box sets are devoted to him, but the tradeoff is that the few that appear are usually of high quality and importance. Blomstedt's Decca set is essential, and if you love this music, so is this. There are details here that only the composer seems to capture. The composer's limited technique – to say nothing of the pre-Karajan Philharmonic – never gets in the way of some committed and intelligent music-making. It's hard to say if Simon Rattle's band, fine as it is technically, would respond with equal care to such a project.

Some of these pieces are reasonably well known, with particular emphasis given to the Symphonic Metamorphosis, a piece that doesn't lack for fine recordings. You could argue for the Symphonies as well, but outside of that, much of this music will be new to the casual ear. The pieces themselves are not all masterworks, but they nevertheless give a genuinely comprehensive overview of the composer's output. The famous Violin Concerto is not here; Hindemith would later record that with the great Russian David Oistrakh.

Unlike the works of Stravinsky, Copland, and Strauss, few have championed these pieces before or since this set. The soloists, especially Monique Haas, are stellar, and the music remains innovative and important today. Hindemith always regretted not recording more with this orchestra, and I don't blame him. Karajan was selective in modern music, and Hindemith rarely figured into that famous conductor's repertoire. Hindemith did in fact live long enough to record in stereo, and it is tempting to ponder what might have been. But what we have here is legitimately a collector's item, required listening for all who care about the music of the 20th Century.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman