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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Klaviermusik mit Orchester, Op. 29 (1923) [18:00]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World” (1893) [46:08]
Leon Fleisher (piano) (Hindemith)
Curtis Symphony Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach
rec. 27 April 2008, Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
ONDINE ODE1141-2 [64:18]
Experience Classicsonline

This has to be one of the most bizarre CD couplings that has come my way. What do the two works have in common? The only thing is that both were performed at the same concert by students and faculty of the Curtis Institute. What would have been more appropriate - and greatly needed - is a new recording of the other work on that concert: Gunther Schuller’s Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, which to my knowledge has not appeared on a recording since the more than fifty-year old version by Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony on Mercury Living Presence. This is indeed a shame, since most fans of Paul Hindemith, who have eagerly awaited a performance of this recently unearthed piano concerto, do not need or want another recording of the ubiquitous New World. I can quickly dispense with an evaluation of this performance, by saying that it is professional and generally well played. The Largo is quite lovely with a very nice English horn solo, and the quiet moments of the work come off rather well. It is just that when things start increasing in volume, Eschenbach uses the sledge-hammer and bludgeon approach. We do not need another unexceptional New World

No, this disc is recommended mainly for the 18-minute Hindemith to admirers of the composer and to the members of the orchestra who have contributed a world premiere recording. The Klaviermusik mit Orchester was one of a number of works for piano left hand and orchestra that pianist Paul Wittgenstein commissioned after he lost his right arm in the First World War. The most famous work of these, and the only one that has entered the standard repertoire, is the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand. The story goes that Wittgenstein either disliked or was incapable of performing most of these commissions. To make matters worse, he did not allow anyone else to perform the Hindemith. So, it lay unperformed in his estate until after his wife died. It became accessible only in 2002. The world premiere took place two years later in Berlin by Leon Fleisher and the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle. Since then Fleisher has performed it numerous times with other orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel. Ever since Fleisher lost the use of his right hand in the 1960s he has championed left-hand works by various composers. Thankfully, he recently regained use of his right hand to the degree that he has performed two-handed pieces by some of the composers with which he was earlier identified, including Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

How does this concerto compare with other Hindemith works of the same period? It was composed in 1923 at the time Hindemith was also writing his Kammermusik concertos. The Klaviermusik fits into this neo-classical, neo-baroque mold, with jazz influences and touches of humour, though it is arguably at a lower level of inspiration than the Kammermusik works. It is in four movements, the first, second and fourth of which are fast, and the third, the longest, is a slow movement. The piano is kept fairly busy throughout the concerto, but gets to relax in the slow movement and dialogue with solo English horn and flute. There is no question that the work belongs to Hindemith of the period and is a substantial contribution to the left-hand piano repertoire, even if it will never equal the Ravel in popularity or the best of Hindemith in quality. Fleisher performs it to the manner born and the orchestra accompany well. It is not the most refined sound, and Eschenbach again could use a lighter touch when the music is loud - especially in the last movement. The recording itself is rather dry and somewhat shallow, something that suits the Hindemith better than the Dvořák.

The bottom line: is this disc worth an 18-minute world premiere? Certainly, if you are an admirer of Hindemith, you will want to hear it. Otherwise, it should primarily appeal to members and fans of the orchestra. Too bad the Schuller wasn’t included, though.

Leslie Wright 


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