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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Ludus Tonalis (1942) [50:05]
Suite 1922, op.26 (1922) [19:06]
John McCabe (piano)
rec. The Warehouse, Waterloo, London, 18-20 July 1995. DDD
HYPERION HELIOS CDH 55413 [69:13] 

Experience Classicsonline



Pianophiles with good memories may well recognise the cover of this new release: it is all but identical to the original Hyperion issue in 1996. All that has changed, aside from the 'Helios' trimming, is the catalogue number (previously CDA 66824) and the price - Helios being Hyperion's budget reissue banner.
 
Ludus Tonalis is Hindemith's last piano work and his tribute, in a sense, to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Between an opening three-part Praeludium in C and its final mirror-image Postludium, Hindemith takes the listener on an epic, but highly accessible journey through a panoply of fugues, twelve in three parts, and eleven interludes, each of which modulates from one key to the next along. Hindemith subtitled the work 'contrapuntal, tonal and technical studies for the piano', but such an academic epithet says little about the scintillating nature of a work of cornucopian imagination and ingenuity.
 
Hindemith grew to dislike the spirited Suite 1922, which he later said was "really not an honourable ornament in the music history of our time, and it depresses an old man rather seriously to see that the sins of his youth impress people more than his better creations". Its five sections are popular dance forms of that period in America, where he was resident, including a foxtrot, Boston and ragtime, which he had elsewhere referred to as "junk [...] When I run out of any decent ideas I always write such things." Yet Hindemith deals with the pieces in a harmonically more sophisticated and indeed ironic way than is seen in Shostakovich's popular 'Jazz' and 'Variety' Suites, and overall the Suite makes an appealing companion to the more heavyweight Ludus

John McCabe was in his mid-fifties when he made this recording, and quite possibly at the height of his prowess as a pianist. Hindemith's music is much easier on the listener than on the pianist, but McCabe, with his composer's ear and insight, makes light of the technical difficulties to put many of the surprisingly expressive elements within the listener's grasp. 

As far as sound quality goes, Hyperion are not always at their best in orchestral recordings, with a certain muddy quality finding its way into string sections especially, but on chamber and solo discs there is no such problem, and audio quality here is very good. The booklet notes are unchanged from old, with Robert Matthew-Walker's fairly long essay still delivering the goods. The booklet can be downloaded for free from Hyperion's website here.
 
Boris Berezovsky's excellent recording of the same two works on Warner Classics (2564634122, 2006) is still widely available, whilst in Siegfried Mauser's recent recording of Hindemith's complete piano works on the German WERGO label, volumes I and IV (WER 61812, 62502) would both be required to furnish little more than the same, but at twice the cost of the Warner. With new Helios releases selling for under £5 at many online outlets, this represents a substantial bargain for all collectors of the key piano works of the 20th century.
 
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