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Hyperion Records

CDA67774 - Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 3 – Music for viola and orchestra
Broken Forms by Franz Marc (1880-1916)
Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67774

Recording details: April 2010
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: January 2011
DISCID: B611140D
Total duration: 72 minutes 46 seconds

'Power's affinity with Hindemith's music is as evident in these new recordings as in previous instalments, his tone perfectly balanced between strength and delicacy … Hyperion's beautifully natural recording is the best yet but it is the partnership with Atherton and the BBC Scottish that makes this such a rewarding listen … the new market leader, strongly recommended. Now, how about the viola d'amore works on Volume 4?' (Gramophone)

'Now on the third instalment of his Hindemith survey for Hyperion, Lawrence Power tackles the works with orchestra, and once again he projects a splendidly warm and rounded tone, bringing compelling focus to these performances' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Real musicality shines through … Lawrence Power lends poignancy to the slow movements and tremendous drive to the fast ones, and the BBC SSO under Atherton gives those machine rhythms real relish' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Trauermusik is a particularly striking three-movement elegy, with David Atherton ensuring that the BBC Scottish Symphony's string textures perfectly cushion the viola's lament' (The Guardian)

'Given David Atherton's proven expertise with Weill, I am not surprised to hear him so comfortable with Hindemith, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra plays with precision and wide-eyed clarity. Hyperion's engineering is first-class in every way' (International Record Review)

'This disk featuring Britain's star viola player throbs with lyricism and insouciant larks … sparks keep flying from Power's viola, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Atherton, is always neat and clean' (The Times)

'L'accompagnement à la fois incisif, brillant mais aussi chaleureux de David Atherton contribue grandement à faire de ce troisième volume le meilleur de la série; le tissu orchestral qui enveloppe l'alto dans le concerto permet à Lawrence Power d'épanouir son chant avec plénitude, tandis que les réponses ironiques à ses interventions séduisent dans les Musiken qui secouent l'auditeur' (Diapason, France)

The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 3 – Music for viola and orchestra
Ruhig gehend  [6'48]
Lebhaft  [2'11]
Leicht bewegt  [3'42]
Sehr lebhaft  [2'29]
Schnelle Halbe  [4'12]
Langsam  [7'49]
Mässig schnell  [3'33]

Lawrence Power’s revelationary series of Hindemith’s complete works for the viola continues into a third and final volume with the music for viola and orchestra. Hindemith was an internationally renowned viola player himself, and his legacy for the instrument is an inestimably important body of work. Throughout this series, Power’s searingly vivid and eloquent performances have left critics and the listening public in no doubt that the somewhat ‘difficult’ reputation of the composer is ill-deserved; that this is music full of striking melodic ideas, deep lyrical feeling and high drama.

The works recorded here include Hindemith’s only formally titled concerto for viola and full orchestra, ‘Der Schwanendreher’, based on old German folk-songs. Hindemith explained that in this concerto he saw the soloist as an itinerant fiddler who comes among convivial company and plays for them the repertoire he has learned on his travels, and like a good folk-fiddler, embellishes the melodies freely and sometimes fantastically. This whimsical idea succinctly describes the procedures of the three movements: and it is clear from the unaccompanied solo which begins the first of them that the folksongs are always given Hindemith’s personal colouring. Also included is one of Hindemith’s most celebrated works: ‘Trauermusik’, written at great speed for a BBC broadcast of his music when King George V had died the day before and funeral music had to replace the planned programme. It is a shining example of an ‘occasional composition’ that far transcends its occasion and makes a distinct contribution to the general repertoire. Closely allied in tone to the more reflective portions of the opera Mathis der Maler, it is a grave, shapely and eloquent lament, with a special quality of intimacy.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Paul Hindemith’s first instrument was the violin, and he rose to become leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra at the age of nineteen. But by the end of World War I he had turned to the viola, and in the inter-war period he was internationally renowned both as a chamber-music player and as a soloist. Not surprisingly he wrote a large number of works for his instrument: in addition to the concertos or concerto-like works recorded here, there are no fewer than seven sonatas, either for viola and piano (recorded on Hyperion CDA67721) or for unaccompanied viola (Hyperion CDA67769). Hindemith performed all of these pieces himself, and together they constitute a sizeable and indispensable portion of the instrument’s repertoire.

He composed the seven works he called Kammermusik (‘Chamber Music’, but perhaps also with a suggestion of its root sense, ‘Room Music’) between 1921 and 1927. The fifth, for viola and chamber orchestra, dates from the latter year. Hindemith dedicated it to his old teacher at the Frankfurt Hochschule, Arnold Mendelssohn (son of a cousin of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy) and played the solo part in the premiere, which took place in Berlin under Otto Klemperer on 3 November 1927. All but one of the Kammermusik pieces is a concerto for a solo instrument and chamber orchestra, each of different constitution. They are characteristic expressions of Hindemith’s first artistic maturity—and of the post-war reaction against the twin emotional excesses of Romanticism and Expressionism.

Hindemith’s instincts always tended towards the ‘objective’ musical values of strong polyphonic interest, firm structure, and Baroque stability of motion, and in the Kammermusik concertos he used these qualities to define an influential neoclassical impulse in German music, just as Stravinsky in Paris was calling for a return to Bach. The neo-Bachian element in Hindemith was strong, and in a sense his Kammermusik compositions present themselves as a twentieth-century equivalent of Bach’s ‘Brandenburg’ Concertos. In Kammermusik No 5 the soloist is accompanied by numerous wind instruments, the strings reduced to a handful of cellos and basses (the better, no doubt, to offset the viola). The first of the four short movements is fast-moving, with a steady pulse of busy neo-Baroque motion, almost a toccata for viola and ensemble. A broad, deeply felt slow movement follows, in which the viola is pitted in melancholy monologue against the rich, dark timbres of the wind instruments, with a more agitated, recitative-like central section. Next comes a highly contrapuntal scherzo, which combines elements of fugato and moto perpetuo. The finale rounds off the proceedings in uproarious style: a short series of variations on a joyously vulgar Bavarian military march finally reveals the necessity for so many wind instruments. The coda, however, has a sudden unexpectedly elegiac ring, and the music signs off with a minimum of fuss.

Hindemith had already begun, in 1926, a parallel series of works entitled Konzertmusik (‘Concert Music’), generally for somewhat larger forces than the Kammermusiks and exhibiting some of the characteristics of the Baroque Concerto Grosso. The Op 48 Konzertmusik, described as ‘for viola and large chamber orchestra’, is an exception, however. Dedicated to the French composer Darius Milhaud and his wife, this work, which Hindemith premiered in Hamburg in 1930 under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwängler, closely resembles Kammermusik No 5 in general outline. The ensemble—once again, of wind instruments plus cellos and double basses—is almost exactly the same as for the earlier work, except for two additional horns and a cor anglais which replaces the E flat clarinet.

There are five movements this time. The first is a cheerful, bustling, busily contrapuntal fast movement, typically marked Lebhaft: Bewegte Halbe (‘Lively: nimble quavers’—Hindemith’s tempo indications are often like written-out metronome marks). It has something of the character of a fast march, during which the viola is called upon to display considerable bravura—though it winds down at length to a quiet close. Without a break, heavy wind chords with a melancholic cor anglais solo announce the slow movement, which largely evolves as a peaceful melodic dialogue between viola and wind. A massive reminiscence of the movement’s opening leads to an accompanied cadenza before a sinuous coda for viola, clarinet, and the low strings.

The third movement is a brief scherzo beginning with excited wind-instrument flourishes and manic moto perpetuo figuration from the viola: when the main theme gets purposefully under way the melodic interest remains in the wind while the soloist, with considerable exercise of virtuosity, must buzz about like a demented wasp. There follows a smoother, more amiable intermezzo movement which shows off the viola’s melodic qualities and includes another cadenza-like passage, leading without a break into a quick finale (more like a coda), full of witty quips passed between soloist and ensemble, none more decisive than the business-like final cadence.

Hindemith’s only formally titled concerto for viola and full (though still small) orchestra, in the classical three-movement pattern, dates from 1935, shortly after he had completed his magnum opus, the opera Mathis der Maler. It may well be that the opera’s setting in the world of late-medieval Germany directed the composer’s attention to the old German folksongs that provide the basic material of his concerto, which he called Der Schwanendreher, ‘The Swan-Turner’, in reference to the song on which the finale is based, Seid ihr nicht der Schwanendreher? In medieval times a ‘swan-turner’ was the man who roasted swans on a spit, turning them so they were evenly browned. Hindemith intended to evoke the merry spirit of that long-gone age—which, in the increasingly dire political climate of the 1930s, was coming to represent for him a lost era of harmony and humanity.

He explained that in this concerto he saw the soloist as an itinerant fiddler who comes among convivial company and plays for them the repertoire he has learned on his travels: songs grave and gay, and finally a dance-tune—and like a good folk-fiddler, he embellishes the melodies freely and sometimes fantastically. This whimsical idea succinctly describes the procedures of the three movements: and it is clear from the unaccompanied solo which begins the first of them that the folksongs are always given Hindemith’s personal colouring. The movement is based on Zwischen Berg und tiefem Tal (Between mountain and deep valley), hinted at by the trombone in the slow introduction, and intoned by that instrument, among others, after the music has developed into a melodious but quite serious-minded faster movement. Nevertheless there is a much greater depth of lyrical feeling than in the earlier Kammermusik and Konzertmusik.

That quality is most patent in the beautiful slow movement. It opens with a touching but intense duet for viola and harp on the song Nun laube, Lindlein, laube! (Shed your leaves, little linden-tree!), which appears as a chorale on the wind instruments with melancholic comments from the soloist. The middle section, in complete contrast, lifts the spirits with a cheerful fugato on a children’s song, Der Gutzgauch auf dem Zaune sass (The cuckoo sat on the fence). This climaxes in a return of the chorale on the brass and a development of the opening duet. In the third movement the vigorous good spirits of the final dance-song provide the starting point for an extended set of cheerful variations, robust and tender, rounding off the work in highly convivial fashion.

Hindemith premiered this concerto under Willem Mengelberg in Amsterdam on 14 November 1935 and introduced it in several European and American cities during the following year. The poet Ezra Pound heard him at the Venice Biennale and afterwards wrote: ‘In this kind of music, no one, and least of all his great contemporary Igor Stravinsky, compares with Hindemith. From the viola lead grow all the sounds of the orchestra … the composer is impregnated with the sense of growth, cellular, as in the natural kingdoms. From the initial cells of the root-heart out to the utmost leaf of the foliage … the Schwanendreher is natural in its liveliness … you can use this new work of Hindemith to measure any modern music whatever.’

The increase in lyrical feeling detectable in Der Schwanendreher carried forward a few months later into a work of a different kind. On 21 January 1936, while Hindemith was in London preparing to give Der Schwanendreher its UK premiere in a BBC concert the following day, King George V died. Protocol demanded that the BBC’s programme should be replaced by appropriate funeral music. Nevertheless the BBC authorities—especially the music director Edward Clark and Adrian Boult, who was to conduct the concert—were keen that Hindemith should still be allowed to take part. It was decided that he should write and perform a memorial piece, specially written for the occasion. For six hours Hindemith engaged in what he later described as some fairly heavy mourning, with a team of copyists to transcribe the music that resulted. Thus was born Trauermusik (Music of Mourning) for viola and string orchestra, which Hindemith duly premiered in the national broadcast with the BBC Orchestra under Boult.

Despite the circumstances, Trauermusik has justly become one of Hindemith’s most celebrated works, for it is a shining example of an ‘occasional composition’ that far transcends its occasion and makes a distinct contribution to the general repertoire. Closely allied in tone to the more reflective portions of the opera Mathis der Maler, it is a grave, shapely and eloquent lament, with a special quality of intimacy. The single movement falls into four sections, the first closely modelled (though without quotation) on the ‘Entombment’ music from Mathis. A second section, in a serene 12/8 pulse, seems to evoke old folksong melodies, either English or German. A livelier, more determined section follows, but its energy soon dissipates into renewed expressions of lamentation. The work ends with a free elegiac invention on J S Bach’s chorale Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Herewith I step before thy throne), well known in English churches as the Psalm tune ‘The Old Hundredth’. Hindemith considered that Bach’s text was a very suitable one for music about kings, but these final bars, appropriate for any obsequy, are among the most moving music he ever wrote.

Malcolm MacDonald © 2011


Other albums in this series
'Hindemith: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67977)
Hindemith: Piano Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67977  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis & other orchestral works' (CDA68006)
Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis & other orchestral works
Buy by post £10.50 CDA68006  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Hindemith: Violin Sonatas' (CDA68014)
Hindemith: Violin Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA68014  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 1 – Viola Sonatas' (CDA67721)
Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 1 – Viola Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67721 
'Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 2 – Sonatas for solo viola' (CDA67769)
Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 2 – Sonatas for solo viola
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67769 
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