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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Orchestral Music
Contents list at end of review
Ludwig Güttler (trumpet); Eckhardt Königstedt (bassoon); Ralf Karsten Brömsel, Walter Hartwich (violins); Herbert Schneider, Gerd Grötzschel (violas); Alfred Lipka (viola); Davia Binder (viola)
Dresdner Philharmonie/Herbert Kegel (CDs 1-3)
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig/Herbert Kegel (CD 4 except Weber)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Otmar Suitner (Weber Metamorphosis)
Rundfunk-Vorschulkinderchor, Leipzig; Kleiner Rundfunk-Kinderchor Leipzig; Rundfunk-Kinderchor Leipzig; Instrumental Ensemble/Hans Sandig (CD 5)
rec. 1969-1985, Lukaskirche, Dresden; Leipzig, Germany. ADD/DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9441 [5 CDs: 297:54]

Brilliant Classics does nothing by halves. This Hindemith collection across 4 CDs draws together many of Hindemith's most prominent orchestral works and adds a fifth setting out one of his works for schoolchildren, Wir bauen eine Stadt.

Herbert Kegel (1920-1990) presides over the first four discs with recordings from the 1980s. He is hardly a celebrated figure from the perspective of today. However he was a very major player in the music scene of the DDR as can be gathered from the Kegel set put out by Berlin Classics in 2002. He was principal conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic from 1977 to 1985 but served three decades from 1970 with the Leipzig Radio Orchestra with whom he is heard on CD 4 in a recording from 1969 of two works for viola and orchestra.

These accounts are good but not outstanding given the brightly lit sound which is vivid but not especially refined. Kegel certainly pours ardour into these scores with their monumental striding violin writing. This is heard to typically sturdy effect in the Symphony Mathis der Maler. The latest work (1949-52) on CD 1 is for the unpredictable pairing of trumpet and bassoon in a Concerto for those two instruments and strings. In fact those two instruments blend and caper rather smoothly in this cheekily clever three-movement piece. It relaxes for a haunting Molto Adagio before returning to japes for a very short Vivace. The trumpeter, Ludwig Güttler, was renowned East of the Berlin Wall and recorded extensively. His legacy can be sampled on various discs from Berlin Classics, Carus and Capriccio. The suite from Nobilissima Visione is brimful of character and benefits from a cheery Marsch. By coincidence Naxos has recently issued the complete ballet.

On CD 2 the Symphony in E flat from 1940 is rumbustiously energetic, archingly severe, cheerily athletic and thoughtful. The performance is nicely balanced but when it comes to burning intensity does not equal that on Everest from Sir Adrian Boult with the LPO; pity about the somewhat distressed Everest sound, but what a performance. Consistent with its name the Symphonia Serena, premiered by the Dallas Symphony and Antal Dorati, is of elevated emotional content. Only in the finale does Hindemith's predilection for a sort of heartlessly clever hyper-activity cast a slight pall.

On CD 3 we encounter the Harmonie der Welt Symphony written for the Minneapolis Orchestra. This is another big-scaled work based on an opera on the life of the astronomer Johannes Kepler. This is a fine performance with an especially affective middle movement, Musica Humana. If you want to hear an even more heatedly emotional reading then do try to track down the Mravinsky/Leningrad performance on B MG-Melodiya. The Harmonie symphony is followed by the strenuous heroics of the 1958 Pittsburgh Symphony in a hearty recording from the 1980s; as is the Harmonie der Welt. The long central Slow March movement again taps Hindemith's gift for sincere and thoughtful music. It's superbly done by Kegel. Hindemith was often at his best when tackling adagios and andantes. His faster music was prone to a certain hardness of heart.

CD 4 comprises a very forward and vivid sounding Schwanendreher concerto, sounding more alive and agreeably bright than the later recordings on CDs 1-3. It's a vivid performance too from violist Alfred Lipka who here enjoys a Heifetz-style spotlight - well, perhaps one step back from that. The recording is pretty impressive for 1969. It's one of Hindemith's most humane and emotional works, so impressive as music too. The compact Trauermusik, written at speed, is also affecting.

After these two concertante pieces we change conductor to Otmar Suitner (1922-2010) whose light was once again hidden under a communist bushel so far as the West was concerned. He too has been celebrated with a Berlin Classics box and in a notable Dvorak symphony cycle. His uproarious and cheery 1996 Weber Symphonic Metamorphosis is the most recent recording here.

The last disc is one of a kind and of a very different kind from the other four. About half of it is dedicated to Hindemith's charming guileless musical play for children Wir bauen eine Stadt - with children's choir singing and children and adults having speaking roles. There is no translation so you will need to be a German speaker to get the specifics. Other instruments play a role including gong, and a small string and woodwind ensemble. That's tracks 1-12 while tracks 13-25 are again for children's choirs but there the music is not by Hindemith. The music is full of innocent humour and enthusiasm. Many have been arranged/edited by the conductor Hans Sandig (1914-1989). Again there are instrumentals to add decoration including xylophone, woodwind and guitar.

The notes are a bit of a patchy affair. They're quite serviceable and read as if they have been fluently translated but there are absolutely no notes for the works on CD 4.

This is an unusual and inexpensive collection with decent rather than glorious sound. It should not be forgotten that there are Hindemith boxed sets in modern sound from Decca (Blomstedt and the SFSO) and in good vintage analogue from the composer on DG and EMI although older than these DDR examples. If top-flight audio on a tight budget is a high priority then go for the Blomstedt. Hearing the composer's own approach - at least in older age - means settling for mono and analogue. If you are OK with good to acceptable sound and want to explore Hindemith then the present pretty wide-ranging set is not a difficult choice.

Rob Barnett

Contents list
CD 1 [64:55]
Symphony ‘Mathis der Maler’ [27:21]
Concerto for Trumpet, Bassoon and Strings [16:29]
Nobilissima visione, Orchestral Suite [21:05]

CD 2 [65:42]
Symphony in E-Flat Major [33:06]
Symphonia serena [32:36]

CD 3 [61:54]
Symphony ‘Die Harmonie der Welt’ [34:36]
Pittsburgh Symphony [27:18]

CD 4 [55:58]
Der Schwanendreher for Viola and Small Orchestra [26:18]
Trauermusik for Viola and String Orchestra [7:52]
Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber [20:48]

CD 5 [49:25]
Wir bauen eine Stadt [23:39]
I. Marsch und Chor “Wir bauen eine Stadt”
II. Chor “Gibst du mir Steine”
III. Musik, das Bauen darstellend
IV. Chor “Erst kommt der Bäcker”
V. Chor “Mit dem Autobus”
VI. Musik “Ankommende Leute”
VII. Chor “Ich bin ein Schaffner”
VIII. Mehrere Kinder “Guten Tag, Frau Bergmann”
IX. Chor “Jetzt ist’s Nacht”
X. Chor “Bei uns haben die Erwachsenen nichts zu sagen”
XI. Das Konzert. Kanon - Violin-Duo No.2 from Vierzehn leichte Stücke für zwei Violinen in der ersten Lage - Lügenlied from the collection ‘Wer sich die Musik erkiest’
XII. Chor “Wir bauen eine Stadt”

Kinderlieder (Not by Hindemith) [25:46]
“Der Vogel singt, die Katze schnurrt”
Lied vom Angler “Frühmorgens geht der Fischer Hans”
Miezekatze “Eine weiße Miezekatze guckte in ein Ofenrohr”
Die Bimmelbahn “Kommt, wir spielen Eisenbahn”
Der Container “Ein riesiger Container”
Was Autos alles können “Ein Brief ist angekommen”
“Es flog ein Auto in die Luft der Nachts bei Mittagshitze”
Der Pfennig und das Sparschwein “Es war einmal ein Pfennig”
Vier Ecken hat das Zeitungsblatt “Nun ratet mal, was Ecken hat”
Kleines Zirkuspferd “Ich bin ein kleines Zirkuspferd”
“Meine Mutter schickt mich her”
“Wir sind die Apfelkinder”
“Kleiner Käfer, fliege”