Let’s hear it for Hindemith. I say this a lot. Here is Ludus Tonalis, a masterpiece from 1942, the composer in America, teaching at Yale. Twenty-five movements: twelve entitled ‘Fuga’ (exploiting all the major keys), eleven named ‘Interludium’, bookended by a ‘Praeludium’ (pealing and rippling) and a ‘Postludium’ (somewhat pensive/unsettled if striving for victory, maybe mirroring World War Two). Don’t be put off by the titular formality or the use of Latin – this is music of rich expression, vitality and harmonic depth.
Käbi Laretei (born 1922, Tartu, Estonia; died 2014, Stockholm) – a pupil of Annie Fischer and maybe best-known as the fourth wife of Ingmar Bergman – left a small discography; indeed in later life she was more-likely writing her memoirs than being found in a recording studio. First issued on a Philips LP (835 391) produced by Harold Lawrence, Laretei’s version of Ludus Tonalis (which she had played on 17 October 1963 in Carnegie Hall, to which there had been previous live accounts heralded by a coaching session with the composer, who died in 1962) is most important.
Certainly she plays one of Hindemith’s great scores with considerable panache, sensitivity, insight and sympathy – at-one with the music’s intellect and emotional capacity; many a mood is present. The recorded sound is fine; the piano may be a trifle metallic, and the background a little hissy, but if transfer-engineer Chris Bernauer had removed any more the sound could well have been dulled and even discoloured.
The best way in to Ludus Tonalis, if needed, is track thirteen (‘Interludium VI’) – exuberant and with a Walton-like impish glint in the eye, which I suspect is deliberate given the men’s friendship: a decade earlier the German had rescued Walton’s Viola Concerto as the replacement soloist and later the Englishman would compose his orchestral Hindemith Variations, the Theme taken from his pal’s Cello Concerto.