Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hindemith: Mathis der Mahler, Symphonische Metamorphosen, Trauermusik - S. Francisco Symph., Blomstedt

Paul Hindemith
Mathis der Mahler, Symphonic Metamorphosis, *Trauermusik
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Herbert Blomstedt, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, *Geraldine Walther (viola)
Decca 421 523 2 DH


Some of the most famous works of one of the most neglected among the great composers.

Classics Today Rating (for the set of 3 CD's with Hindemith's symphonic works): 9/9

Much great music making happened in San Francisco well before Michael Tilson Thomas arrived on the scene. Herbert Blomstedt's individual discs of Hindemith's major orchestral works were among the highlights of his decade-long, highly musical tenure there (along with his Nielsen and Strauss), a trend that continued on his arrival in Leipzig. After a brief stint in the all-too-familiar "now out-of-print" category, these performances have made their much deserved reappearance on this handy-dandy Trio set. Can better recordings of some of the individual works be had? Perhaps, but certainly not by much. San Francisco's illustrious brass section gets put through its paces to maximum effect in the glorious Konzertmusik, as well as in the "Alleluia" brass chorale coda to the Temptation of St. Anthony (Mathis der Maler).

The nearly Concertgebouw-like acoustics of the Gewandhaus help to clarify the dense and busy textures of Hindemith's over-the-top Die Harmonie der Welt (with the equally super-sounding Leipzig orchestra), a work that certainly deserves and rewards repeated listening. And speaking of deserving works, the almost completely unknown yet sunny Symphonia Serena earns the attention of even the most novice listeners, as well those suffering from modern-music-phobia--it's that good. Viola fans will receive quite a treat from super-virtuoso Geraldine Walther on Der Schwanendreher, Hindemith's somewhat subdued yet attractive viola concerto. It's hard to imagine that a better performance of it is even possible, and Decca's sound quality is top-notch throughout. In sum, this is a hugely satisfying set: great works, great conducting, great playing. Yes, it's just that simple.

--Barry Guerrero

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