Hindemith: Violinkonzert, Symphonic Metamorphosis, Konzertmusik
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Hindemith: Violinkonzert - Symphonic Metamorphosis - Konzertmusik, Op. 50
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Featuring Midori, the NDR Symphony Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach, this release commemorates the anniversary of Hindemith's death 50 years ago. Midori is an extraordinary artist, a devoted and gifted educator and a community engagement activist. Her enthusiasm for playing music of different times is seen on her CDs and concert repertoire. This recording is her first for Ondine.
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Which leaves the rarely performed Violin Cto., which here is played by a top-tier virtuoso. Midori's presence gives this CD its selling point. As the random marketplace would have it, she competes head on with a new recording by the estimable German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann on BIS. The concerto is linked to the other two works by history, since Hindemith had changed his utilitarian, unsentimental style of the 20's, writing increasingly emotional music, especially as the Nazi era expanded - the Violin Concerto was written for a German premier but wound up being finished in exile in Switzerland, receiving its first performance in Amsterdam in 1940. The composer was a skilled violinist, although he favored the viola, and the violin writing is varied and appealing. There is enough vibrancy and drama in the work to attract a wider audience, and the often colorful orchestral part follows closely at times on the exuberance of the Symphonic Metamorphoses.
Zimmermann's account handily rises above Midori's, which on its own terms is appealing and musical. But Zimmermann is more engaged; he is better recorded; and the orchestral accompaniment from Paavo Jarvi and the Frankfurt Radio SO delivers more drama and impact. I wouldn't call these differences so marked that Midori is completely outclassed, and for his part Eschenbach finds more energy and momentum than he does in the two other works on the program. There is much in the Hindemith concerto that still feels academic and tame in its neoclassicism despite outbursts of emotion - I doubt that anyone will consider ether reading a revelation. It's just that Zimmermann's advocacy is a few notches more persuasive.
Such are the winds of cultural change that when Hindemith died a few days after Christmas in 1963, Leonard Bernstein commemorated him on national television, while today the fiftieth anniversary of his death is passing almost without notice, and his place in the standard orchestral repertoire has been reduced to a handful of works. This CD is worthwhile in gathering three scores that endure, giving pleasure even if the performances don't rival the best on disk.
Conductor Christoph Eschenbach puts the NDR SinfonieOrchester through its paces in an exciting live recording of the Metamorphoses. Though perhaps not always at the same high level as two famous live recordings by Claudio Abbado and Leonard Bernstein, this is a satisfying version that's easy to recommend.
The Violin Concerto of 1939 is a solid, and sometimes stolid, work from Hindemith's middle period. The great violinist Midori provides charisma, fire and charm, all of which are often in short supply in Hindemith recordings, giving the piece its best advocacy on disc. One hopes that other violinists will follow her lead in performing and recording such an interesting concerto. The third piece on the CD is the Konzertmusik from 1930. When Hindemith heard Koussevitsky conduct the work in 1938 in Boston, he said 'They played it with absolute perfection.' I think he would have said the same about this excellent recording from Hamburg.