HINDEMITH: Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings; Symphony ‘Mathis der Maler’; Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber – BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Martyn Robbins – Hyperion

by | Dec 24, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

PAUL HINDEMITH: Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings, Op. 50; Symphony ‘Mathis der Maler’; Symphonic Metamorphosis after Themes by Carl Maria von Weber – BBC Scottish Sym. Orch./ Martyn Robbins – Hyperion CDA68006, 66:01 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (12/10/13) ****:

I am sure this is open to debate, but many people consider these three works to be Hindemith’s greatest orchestral works. Certainly they are arguably his best known and should belong in anyone’s collection on the short list of “must haves” from this enigmatic mid-twentieth century German iconoclast.

For me, what makes nearly all of Hindemith’s music very appealing is his dark, brooding style and a harmonic system (of his own device) that is never atonal but is consistently unusual; even a little curious. I think both of these trademark traits are present in the opening Concert music for Brass and Strings. This under- performed masterwork was written in 1929 for the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony. This three-movement work is composed in a manner like the Baroque concerto grosso, where the brass plays off the strings in dialogue fashion. This very entertaining work also has fine solo moments for trumpet, horn and trombone.

Mathis der Maler (“Mathias the Painter” – about Matthias Grunewald) is one of my very favorite twentieth century operas and Hindemith wrote the subsequent Symphony based on music from the opera in short succession, over the two years 1933-1934. There is a bit of a majestic sound to the brass writing throughout and even some moments of neo-Renaissance writing; befitting the time period of the story. I have always loved both the brass writing in this work (in all Hindemith, really) as well as the marvelous counterpoint. The closing brass chorale on the message from three angels is a highlight. Sadly, while conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler was a great promoter of Hindemith, this work in particular, Hitler and Goebbels found Hindemith’s work ‘atonal noise’ and unbecoming to the cultural mission of the Reich. Probably this is but one reason why Mathis never became widely performed.

Of these three “big works” in the Hindemith oeuvre, the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Weber may be the most performed, the best known and is the most “buoyant.”  There are versions of this work, presently, arranged for chamber ensemble and even concert band. Interestingly, this was originally intended as a dance work, composed for choreographer Leonide Massine, for whom Hindemith had already written Nobilissima visione, on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The Symphonic Metamorphosis is in four movements, each based on themes from different – and very diverse – works by Carl Maria von Weber. The opening is from one of his Eight Pieces for piano, the second from his incidental music to Gozzi’s Turandot (well before and considerably more obscure than the famed Puccini opera), the third from another piano work and the closing march is also from the Eight Pieces. There is, indeed, a dance-like quality and an upbeat tone to this work that is not found in most Hindemith; although the closing march and moments of the Andantino have some characteristic darkness.

I do consider Hindemith one of the masters of the twentieth century and these three pieces to be essential. This recording is well worth having. Each performance of the BBC Scottish Symphony I have heard is quite good and, while I am not familiar with Maestro Martyn Robbins, his pacing and feel for these works is perfect. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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