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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Tuttifäntchen - Weihnachtsmärchen mit Gesang und Tanz in drei Bildern (1922)
Bele Kumberger (soprano) - Tuttifäntchen; Herman Wallén (baritone) - Master Tuttifant, a woodcarver; Nora Lentner (soprano) _ Trudel, Tittufants daughter; Matthias Stier (tenor) - Peter, apprentice at Tuttifant; Annika Schlicht (mezzo), mother Berthe, Peter's mother; Sebastian Bluth (baritone) - Punoni, head of the puppet theatre; Jan Gerrit Brüggemann; Rundfunkkinderchor Berlin
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Johannes Zurl
rec. Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg Haus des Rundfunks, Kleiner Sendesaal and Hörspielstudio Berlin, 15-17 December 2012
CPO 777 802-2 [72:20]

I suspect that even for Hindemith-completists this will be a disc too far. Tuttifäntchen is subtitled ‘a Christmas story with songs and dances in three scenes’. Hindemith wrote this work in his late twenties at the request of the Frankfurt City Theatres where theatre productions aimed specifically at children had had considerable success. Although this is a Christmas story it is in no way linked to the Christmas story. The eponymous hero is in fact a Pinocchio-esque living/magical puppet and the - extremely slight - story follows his adventures trying to be reunited with the fir tree from which he was carved.
The young modernist Hindemith, even today all too often dismissed as arid and intellectual, might seem the last person to compose the incidental music for such a light entertainment. In fact he provides elegant and easily enjoyable music that is wholly appropriate - whether strophic songs, pleasant dance music or a rather impressive closing chorale (a setting of Auf, gläubige Seelen - which the English-speaking world know as Oh come all ye faithful). However, and it’s a big however, whether this adds up to a work that one will be reaching for from the CD shelf even once a year is another thing.
Additionally, this is a play with music - so of the CD’s 72 minutes playing time nearly exactly half is dialogue in German. Of the half that is music several cues are strophic repetitions. CPO has decided to print only the text of the songs so for a non-German speaker such as myself great tracts of dialogue pass with only occasional phrases caught. This is not helped by a very brief and undetailed synopsis. Credit to Hindemith for writing appropriate music and it is very well performed here. The small orchestra and the singers ‘pitch’ their performances very well - the style comes more from operetta than opera. There are tantalising passing echoes of Hansel and Gretel as well as a curious nod towards Petroushka’s Shrovetide Fair and several skilfully pastiched folk-type songs. Rather annoyingly the dialogue has been recorded separately in a closer and dryer acoustic so suddenly the voice leaps towards the listener. Much as I enjoyed the musical performances the spoken text has a rather old-fashioned archness to it that even on a single listening is wearing. Even if I were a child and understood every word I suspect I would find the forced jollity annoying; twee not charming. That is the essence of the piece not Hindemith’s music or the performances given here.
The engineering of the musical element is up to the usual high standard of CPO - the orchestra set in a resonant acoustic but with plenty of detail registering. This makes the crudeness of the spoken sections all the more surprising. The liner continues the improvement noted with others from this source recently - sticking to clearly written factual information. Only the lack of the detailed synopsis blots that particular copybook. There is very little else to say - sadly more bah-humbug than anything else I’m afraid. A very tiny chip from an undoubted master’s block.
Nick Barnard