HINDEMITH:  Complete Orchestral Works Vol. 3
(
cpo784) (4 CDs)
Clarinet Concerto (Ulrich Mehlhart); Concerto for Horn and Orchestra (Marie Luise Neunecker/Brigitte Goebel, speaker); Concerto for Trumpet, Bassoon and Strings (Reinhold Friedrich/Carsten Wilkening); Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Harp and Orchestra (Walter Büchsel/Livia Varcol/Charlotte Cassedanne); Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orch/Werner Andreas Albert, cond.

cpo 999 1142


Violin Concerto(Dene Olding); Kammermusik No. 4, Op. 36 No. 3.  Tuttif”ntchen, Orchestral Suite
Queensland Symphony Orch/Werner Andreas Albert, cond.

cpo 999 527

Kammermusik No. 5, Op. 36 No. 4.  Konzertmusik, Op. 48.  Der Schwanendreher.  Trauermusik.
Brett Dean, viola/Queensland Symphony Orch/Werner Andreas Albert, con
d.
cpo 999 492

Kammermusik No. 6, Op. 46 No. 1.  Kammermusik No. 7, Op. 46 No. 2.  Organ Concerto
Brett Dean, viola d'amore; Rosalinde Haas, organ/Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orch/Werner Andreas Albert, cond.

cpo 999 261
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This boxed set is billed as "Compete Orchestral Works Vol. 3: Orchestral Works, Concertos, Kammermusiken 4-7." All are conducted by a man who, according to the bio in the four accompanying program books, "brought his 15-volume edition of Hindemith's complete symphonic compositions and concertos to completion on cpo" in 1995, the centenary of the composer's birth. Fine, except that CD 1 and 3 in this volume were recorded in 1997 with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra of Brisbane, No. 3 containing Hindemith's four concerted works for viola (his own instrument as a solo performer in the 1920s and '30s), No. 1 containing two works for solo violin plus Tuttif”nchen, a 1922 orchestral suite in 19 movements subtitled "Christmas Fairy Tale." It is the earliest of 13 works included here, some of which have already appeared on single CDs in the latest Schwann/Opus at hand.

Collectors of the compleat Hindemith will need to cross-reference, in other words, what they already have on their shelves—librarians in particular with limited budgets, since a project of this magnitude was surely targeted for archives world-world. I don't write this to disparage the dedication of cpo, or several broadcasting co-producers in Germany, Australia, and Tasmania. Those are conductor Werner Andreas Albert's antipodal power bases, and he's especially to be praised for results achieved with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, based well north of Sydney and Melbourne on Australia's eastern coast. The Frankfurt orchestra, on the other two discs recorded between1900 and 1995, is a given—one of several outstanding radio symphonies in what used to be West Germany. cpo's respective recording teams in Frankfurt and Brisbane have produced superb facsimiles.

Let's get one idiotic artistic gaffe out of the way first: a decision in the Horn Concerto of 1949 to have Brigitte Goebel read a poem by Hindemith, "Declamation," over the music (obviously dubbed in, furthermore). I mean, the horn soloist is already playing the poem's meter and inflections as a "wordless recital" (the annotator's words). Certainly the composer didn't pull this dumb stunt in his storied recording with Dennis Brain and the Philharmonia Orchestra on EMI. Once in a while, an obsession with completeness for its own sake can backfire, and this one is cannon-sized. More's the pity because Marie Luise Neunecker plays the brief, three-movement work (just under 14 minutes) quite beautifully. She's not another Dennis Brain, or even a clone, but neither is anyone else today—that dynasty ended in 1957 when the 36-year-old virtuoso totaled his sports car driving back to London after an evening concert at Edinburgh (conductor Eugene Ormandy had a premonition and begged Brain to wait until morning, to no avail).

Frln. Neunecker's all-German wind and harp colleagues on CD 1 (made in 1990, 1993 and 1994 at Frankfurt) are prevailingly expert. Their four concertos are vintage 1947-49, when the composer was living and teaching in the U.S. Even more than Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky—also naturalized emigres, but living in Hollywood—Hindemith was immensely influential from the time of his arrival in 1939 well beyond his return to Europe in 1953. A generation of American composers born between WW1 and 2 adopted his busy, Neo-Baroque, diatonic-dissonant style—were engulfed by it in some cases—except that survivors eschewed an overuse of trombones and tubas that gave Hindemith's orchestral output a medieval town-music character viewed through a fish-eye lens.

He was ceaselessly productive from his mid-20s until his death in 1963—a 40-year span that produced masterworks as well as, to use his term, "Gebrauchsmusik" -- that is, useful, utilitarian pieces for instruction as well as performance. He could be solemn, hammer-fisted and purposefully shocking (especially in the Weimar Republic years, while teaching at Berlin's prestigious Hochschule für Musik, and vying with Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and Ernst Krenek for notoriety). It was a nude bath-scene for soprano in his opera News of the Day that earned the enmity of priggish Joseph Goebbels, who declared him a Kulturbolschevik. But Hindemith could also be philosophical, practical, ecstatic, and not least impish—typified by the final movement of a 1949 Concerto for Wind Quartet, Harp and Orchestra. Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" plays throughout, which was Hindemith's silver-anniversary gift to his wife. He even arranged for a May 15 premiere at Columbia University to coincide. Whether chamber-orchestra music with soloists (the last four of his seven numbered Kammermusiken, composed in the 1920s) or full-orchestra concertos, Hindemith’s distinctive fingerprints are on everything, even the quite ugly-sounding Organ Concerto composed in 1962 for Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center, with a tonic chord at the end (too little too late).

Best-known in this collection are the Violin Concerto from 1939, which Hindemith recorded with David Oistrakh and the London Symphony in 1962 for Decca, and two of the four works for viola—Der Schwanendreher "after old folk songs" from 1935, and Trauermusik, written January 20, 1936, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., for a Queen's Hall concert the next evening. Hindemith had been scheduled as soloist in Der Schwanendreher, but King George V died January 20, and Funeral Musik was created to replace it. The next day Hindemith wrote to his publisher about this "...pretty piece, oriented to Mathis and Schwanendreher, with a Bach chorale at the conclusion (‘Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit," very appropriate for kings), which, in addition, is known to every child in England...." Australian violist Brett Dean is soloist in all four works on CD 3, plus Kammermusik No. 6 for viola d'amore and orchestra on CD 4, which couples Kammermusik No. 7 and the Lincoln Center concerto, both for organ. Dean plays everything authoritatively and beautifully; so does fellow Aussie Dene Olding in the Violin Concerto on CD 2.

Other than operetta-level trivia in Tuttif”nchen, not a note of which is recognizably Hindemythic, the remaining works on these four discs—i.e., 305 minutes of music— are all of a piece, if not consistently of a quality. Such comprehensive documentation deserves not only respect but applause: Werner Andreas Albert isn't one of the world's conducting stars, but clearly he is a professional and sometimes more, when a work touches something deeper than his reverential sense of duty. This achievement ranks up there with the Craftinsky overview on Sony of Igor Stravinsky's output for orchestra from Op. 1 through The Flood, and Boulez's complete Webern in the 1970s. If the music touches you, investment will be rewarded whenever you play it.

R.D. (APRIL 2001)