HINDEMITH: Das Marienleben – Soile Isokoski, soprano/ Marita Viitasalo, piano – Ondine

by | Jul 17, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HINDEMITH: Das Marienleben – Soile Isokoski, soprano/ Marita Viitasalo, piano – Ondine ODE 1148-2 [Distr. By Naxos], 71:45. ****:

Das Marienleben (“The Life of the Virgin Mary”) is a cycle of fifteen songs Hindemith sets to music on texts by Rainer Maria Rilke. Written in 1922 at the age of 26, this cycle in part testifies Hindemith’s status as a composer for the voice. He combines early twentieth century musical concepts – expressionism, tonality, and experimental coloring techniques – to illustrate the sequence of events from the birth of the Virgin Mary leading to the three songs devoted to the death of Virgin Mary. This powerful cycle also exemplifies Hindemith’s adaptation in the practices of “Neue Sachlickeit” – an amalgamation in the use of musical communication as a means of poetic expression. It has been suggested that Das Marienleben exemplifies an early ripening of Hindemithian expressionism – the composer later documented these principles of compositional techniques in the “Unterweisung im Tonsatz” (The Craft of Musical Composition). Indubitably, the importance of Das Marienleben to Hindemith as a composer cannot be questioned, as it was Hindemith himself who said that “I like the pieces very much and am certain that they are my best works thus far – and I don’t believe that a song cycle of similar proportions has been composed recently.” In further support of this claim, Hindemith revised this cycle twice during his lifetime – once in 1935, and later again in 1948 – in order to capture the vast expanse of his expressionist ethos. This Ondine recording presents the newer version of the latter.

As Giselher Schubert provides in his liner notes with informative historical and musical contexts, Das Marienleben attracted Hindemith as it highlights the composer’s ingenious use of literary narrative and musical lullaby to portray humanistic qualities of lament and confession. For instance, listen to how Hindemith makes use of musical forms such as the passacaglia (No.2), basso ostinato (No.8), fugato (No.9) and variations (No.14) to evoke the weightiness and proportions behind the textual interpretation. Hindemith’s use of the voice as an instrument may have partly been influenced by prior works in the same categories by Gustav Mahler (Das Knaben Wunderhorn) and Richard Strauss (Vier Letzte Lieder). Consistently, both Soile Isokoski and her permanent duo partner Marita Viitasalo have proven themselves to be capable interpreters to meet the musical and technical demands set out in these 15 songs. Isokosi’s extensive experience in the vocal compositions of Sibelius and Strauss for example, and Marita Viitasalo’s in the works of Schubert, Schumann and Wolf are indispensable for their contextual understanding and natural fluidity in Hindemith’s musical and extramusical demands. Particularly vivid are their interpretations of the first song (Nativity of B.V.M. [Blessed Virgin Mary]), the ninth song (Of the Wedding at Cana), and the final three pieces on the Death of B.V.M., which Isokoski brings sincerity and communicates conviction in her artistry for the work. Here is a voice that befits as one of the pillars in the vocal world. Viitasalo, on a similar note, reinforces the underpinning drama set by our vocalist with her responsive pianistic parts.  Recorded in Sello Hall in February 2009 and mastered in 24-bit recording in DXD, Ondine has satisfied both the Hindemith devotees and keen audiophiles with this performance. While this Hindemith cycle may not have appealed as great of an interest from other recording labels as it obviously has with Ondine (Meyer-Topsoe/Salo on Danacord,  Roslak/Gould on Sony, come to mind among a limited few others), this is an important release that will surely lead the field in the years to follow.

— Patrick P.L. Lam

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