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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Complete Viola Works Volume 1
Der Schwanendreher - Konzert nach alten Volkslidern für Bratsche und kleines Orchester (1935)* [26:47]
Trauermusik für Streichorchester mit Solobratsche (1936) [7:33]
Kammermusik Nr. 5 op. 36 Nr. 4 für Solobratsche und grösseres Kammerorchester (1927) [19:23]
Konzertmusik für Solobratsche und grösseres Kammerorchester op. 48a [Frühe Fassung] (1929) [26:07]
Tabea Zimmermann (viola)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Hans Graf
rec. August 2012, Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin Dahlem

There is something about good viola playing which lift its musical expression away from that ‘alto’ feel and brings us closer to the violin. Conversely my feeling for the violin is that it is at its best when there is a depth of sound which approaches the sonorities of the viola. Either way, if you see the viola as playing second-fiddle to the violin then please think again. If you need convincing then this first volume of Tabea Zimmermann’s recordings of the complete viola works of Paul Hindemith may well do the trick.
From the first flourish of Der Schwanendreher we know we are in for a treat. Zimmermann’s confident bowing and sense of natural expression take us beyond instrumental considerations, and we´re immediately immersed in this renowned concerto with its integration of folksong melodies. Beautifully sensitive orchestral accompaniment completes this picture, and the warmth of the wind playing in the gentler sections of the second movement is an object lesson in ‘less is more’. The colour and life in the final movement has a certain French joie de vivre played vivaciously in this account, giving plenty of reasons for the work being an unacceptably fun piece for the 1936 concert planned when the death of King George V intervened. The Trauermusik was written as a substitute in just a few hours, and its placement here is perfect, the music relating to the slow movement of the concerto, its integration of the chorale Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit a master stroke. All of the deceptively ‘simple’ aspects of this piece are nicely solved here, for instance the switch to the slower final tempo from 5:08, and that final chorale is marvellously atmospheric and heartrendingly moving.
The Kammermusik No. 5 is Hindemith’s first concerto for the instrument he chose over the violin and it is hugely entertaining. The viola integrates and competes with muscular winds and brass and the balance is superbly found in this recording, the sense of conflict and triumph not undermined by the soloist being too close, while all of the notes are clear from all sections. The signing expression of the second movement is lovely but played without sentimentality in this recording, Hindemith’s wit and wry humour elsewhere observed with a keen sense of detail while avoiding mannered over-emphasis. The military parodies of trilling clarinets and marching brass in the finale are performed here with gusto and just the right ‘outdoor’ weight.
Brass and winds are also a strong feature in the Konzertmusik, Op. 48, and the orchestra is indeed blessed with players of both power and refinement. Hindemith’s superb orchestration but also the excellent Deutschlandradio/Myrios recording keeps everything beautifully transparent, and in a score which is replete with event and ever-changing musical discourse this version is a delight from beginning to end. The booklet describes the history of this work, and those of us used to the more familiar five movement version will be fascinated to know that this is the première recording of the six movement work which was Hindemith’s original conception. This reinstates a Langsam, Schreitende Achtel fourth movement, which gives the opening of the now complete second part of the concerto a movingly nostalgic feel. The gains in this first edition version are palpable, but would be nothing without the deeply heartfelt performance we are given here.
This is a release which can stand its ground against all comers. There is a CPO release with an identical programme which has Brett Dean as soloist, CPO 999 492-2 which I’ve had for donkey’s years as part of Werner Andreas Herbert’s Hindemith ‘complete orchestral works’ set. These performances are very good and I hadn’t really imagined them being bettered, but Tabea Zimmermann and Hans Graf now have the edge in a few ways. The First Edition première of Op. 48a is a valuable addition to anyone’s collection, and the vivid clarity and stunning surround effect of the SACD recording is in this case also not to be sniffed at. In the end even Zimmermann’s superlative playing might not quite have tipped the balance, but the character in the playing of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin most certainly does, and for this and all of the other good reasons mentioned I think this disc is a genuine winner.
Dominy Clements