Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Apparebit repentina dies für Chor und 10 Bläser (1947)* [20:02]
Six Chansons (1939) [7:53]
Lieder nach alten Texten, Op. 33 (1923-25) [8:44]
Messe für gemischten Chor (1963) [30:44]
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart; Mitglieder des Radio-Sinfonieorchesters Stuttgart
des SWR*/Marcus Creed
rec. Funkstudio Stuttgart, Germany, 10-12 September 2012 (Apparebit), 13-14 October 2011 (Chansons), 17-18 October 2011 (Lieder), 7-9 May 2012 (Messe)
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD93.295 [67:42]
The fiftieth anniversary of Hindemith’s death last year was not exactly forgotten, but more attention could have been paid to it. With the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner and the centenaries of Britten and Lutosławski, this is understandable, and we should be grateful for the number of recordings of Hindemith’s music that were issued. Cause for celebration were the new discs of his violin and viola music, less so the set of his so-called piano concertos. Most unusual, perhaps, though is this CD of choral works, which will not be known by most listeners. The Requiem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, based on Walt Whitman’s poem, and dedicated to the memory of FDR and the Americans who died in World War II, is the best known choral work of the composer. It does not get that many performances or recordings, so I am especially happy to welcome this new disc of Hindemith’s choral music that spans his entire career and demonstrates well the variety of his output.
The programme starts with the most imposing of these pieces, Apparebit repentina dies, the text of which Hindemith took from a medieval anthology of Latin poetry describing the Day of Judgment and predating the Dies Irae. Apparebit was commissioned by Harvard University and premiered by the Collegiate Chorale with members of the Boston Symphony under Robert Shaw. The work begins with a magnificent brass fanfare, and the brass, consisting of two trumpets, four horns, three trombones and a tuba, is employed throughout. The piece is divided into four sections with the text containing 23 couplets, each beginning with the successive letter of the alphabet. Apparebit is a colourful work with splendid writing for both chorus and brass. Of the music on this disc it is undoubtedly the most memorable and should be performed more often than it apparently is. The brass writing is fully equal to that of the much more famous Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Op. 50. The performance here is all one could ask for and the sound captures the spirit of the music well with enough resonance for the brass to ring out, but clarity at the same time for the words to tell. Even so, in places the words are not ideally clear; however, full texts are provided in the booklet so it is easy to follow along. This is a virtuosic work and maybe that partly explains its neglect on the concert scene. It is hoped that this new recording will change that picture.
The rest of the CD consists of a cappella music that shows different sides of Hindemith. There are two sets of unaccompanied songs, the first of which Hindemith composed after he moved to France in 1938. He left Germany because his works had been banned by the Nazis. He and his wife settled in the Rhône Valley region not far from where Rainer Maria Rilke had lived and, based on a suggestion, set the six songs for four-part choir to the French poetry of Rilke. The songs were meant for amateur choirs and formally are not complex. Unlike much of his music, they are rarely contrapuntal with the choral textures following the melody in the top voice. As a set they are delightful and depict a doe, a swan, time passing, spring, winter and an orchard. While their harmony is typical of Hindemith for the most part, the first chanson also reminds me of some of Poulenc’s secular songs. Marcus Creed’s SWR Vocal Ensemble obviously enjoys singing them, something that is also conveyed well to the listener.
The German Songs to Old Texts, which Hindemith composed much earlier in his career, comes as quite a contrast to the French settings. They are more dissonant and harmonically dense and contain a wider range of moods. Various texts are used, including one of Martin Luther on the “Domestic Regime”, describing the husband’s and wife’s roles in domestic life. The songs, though, are listener-friendly and are unmistakably Hindemithian. Hindemith often included these early songs in concerts in his later years.
Much more austere is Hindemith’s last composition, his Mass. It was his first work where he set a strictly liturgical text. At first listen, it is rather forbidding, but as one gets to know it one can appreciate the complexity of the writing as well as the depth of feeling it conveys. Unlike the songs the Mass is highly contrapuntal, with the Gloria ending in quadruple counterpoint. In some respects the work evokes the Renaissance mass tradition in its austerity. In view of its complexity and the high demands it placed on the singers, Hindemith planned another, simpler setting. Unfortunately, he died before he got the chance to carry out his plan. As with the other works here, Marcus Creed and his choir offer an exemplary performance that does not short-change the drama of the music or compromise the purity of the text. He has a superb choir with a substantial dynamic range and, for the first work, magisterial brass. The only advice I would give the listener is to begin with the songs and leave the Apparebit for last.
Hänssler’s presentation leaves nothing to be desired, either. The booklet has a simple, but attractive forest-green cover and excellent notes on the works and performers. All the texts are included as well as translations in English and German where appropriate. In every way, this is an important CD and a fine tribute to Hindemith in his anniversary year. Incidentally, Marcus Creed and his SWR Vocal Ensemble have also recorded choral works of Ives, Schnittke and Kurtág in what appears to be series of fine recordings of music that should be better known.