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CD Review

Paul Hindemith

  • Nobilissima Visione *
  • Einleitung und Lied des Troubadour
  • Tuchkaufer und Bettler
  • Der Ritter
  • Marsch
  • Erscheinung der drei Frauen
  • Festmusik
  • Schluss des Festes
  • Meditation
  • Geigenspiel/Der Wolf
  • Kargliche Hochzeit
  • Incipiunt laudes creaturarum
  • 5 Pieces for String Orchestra, Op. 44 #4 **
  • Langsam
  • Langsam
  • Lebhaft
  • Sehr langsam
  • Lebhaft
* Ko-ichiro Yamamoto, trombone
** Emma McGrath, violin
Seattle Symphony Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
Naxos 8.572763 59m
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Whether or not this is the "first" recording of the complete ballet is apparently up for debate among veteran critics, but this is the only recording that is still in print, so that's that. Paul Hindemith has been making a kind of comeback on the music scene, perhaps because his music is no longer perceived as "new" or "challenging". Actually, in many ways, it's still both of those things, especially here, where the music is so unfamiliar.

Former Seattle Symphony Music Director Gerard Schwarz built a true legacy in the Northwest, and his newer recordings on Naxos are both innovative and uniformly excellent. Recorded in 2011, these Hindemith selections show an orchestra in top form. The Seattle strings give real depth and feeling to the music, as well as a welcome sense of biting accuracy when needed. The winds give the march sections a suitably festive air, as do the warmly-rounded brass, admirably captured in the Recital Hall within Benaroya Hall in Seattle. First-desk playing is exemplary. The ballet, by the way, was to be based off the life of St. Francis of Assisi, but that's really neither here nor there. It's wonderful music, and a synopsis is included if you absolutely insist on knowing what it's about. This is an important addition to the Hindemith discography, featuring the composer's trademark brass fanfares and brooding string interludes. If you love the composer, you need this.

The Five Pieces for String Orchestra are an early work, and a fine coupling. The Seattle strings bring weight and tension to this beautifully puzzling music. There's unease, but elegance and energy, too. The last in a group of four sets of teaching pieces, Hindemith's own work as a string player and extensive knowledge of ensembles is always evident. Contrasting in mood and style, it is a joy to hear such a fine string section perform works such as this. The concluding Lebhaft proves especially daunting, but violinist Emma McGrath has no issue with her solo lines, nor do her colleagues seem intimidated. The results are very satisfying. A unique release that honors a great composer.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman