on 24 October 2012
Considering these recordings were made in the 1950s the sound quality and clarity are spectacularly good.
It is also a rare treat to hear a composer conducting one of the finest orchestras playing his own works and as a result the tempos and dynamics being as the composer intended them to be.
Despite having produced a large output most of the recordings of Hindemith's works tend to duplicate the same few compositions (Mathis der Maler, Symphonic Metamorphoses etc.). It is refresshing that this set includes some of his less recorded works such as the splended Concert music for piano, brass and 2 harps.
A magnificent set of recordings at a bargain price. Highly recommended.
I'm thinking that Hindemith was decidedly a man of his time, when Strauss was a great romantic and the Second Viennese School remain inaccessible to most, the one thing holding Hindemith back is his pragmatism. This is reflected in the strict, no-nonsense conducting authority, as audible as it is reported in the booklet note. He knows where he's going. But who's going with him? It helps to have a wide-ranging interest in German music, going back to the Reformation, in order to sense the sublimation and celebration of history which is expressed in these compact and sometimes terse pieces.
Despite their age the sound is very good, the atmosphere intense, and the presence of plenty of lesser known compositions decidedly welcome. What I'm loving is the cosmopolitanism, the (pre)echoes of Shostakovich and Britten, resonances with Stravinsky, flashes of Les Six, German polyphony, chorale tunes, you name it. Try the remarkable Konzertmusik Op.49, for Piano/Brass/Harps. Monique Haas in das haus: all sorts going on. That comes after a sparkling Concerto for Orchestra, like a series of entr'actes, a more successful condensing of Hindemith's theatrical experience than Die Harmonie der Welt (Disc 3), something which is just too dry.
This Berlin Philharmonic is the one Karajan inherited from Furtwangler, and these recordings mark the transitional period. Furtwangler, as is well known, fought some sort of battle over Hindemith's Mathis Der Maler. In the end it was Karajan who recorded the symphony, for EMI, a year or two after the composer's version, again with the Berliners. Mathis can go horribly wrong, despite its rep as PH's best piece, so an audition of the composer's reading should be required prep for all aspiring conductors of the symphony; having said that, this is one case where PH's nonchalance underpowers the performance and Karajan remains the first choice for this symphony, one of his truly great Berlin Philharmonic sessions.
Symphonic Metamorphoses remains the most purely entertaining composition, bizarrely one people always complained about back in my record store days. The bell sounds (ii) and flute solo (iii) are especially striking in PH's account. There's nothing distracting about the Symphonic Dances, a workout for the orchestra and worthy background music while you get on with other things. The concertante nature of the Four Temperaments (theme & variations) make the piece more arresting,
however you regard PH's characterisation.
All in all, something different, a different kind of musical ambition, unpretentious but quite invigorating. Sincere and committed performances.