Kammermusik No.5, Op.36/4
Lawrence Power (viola)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 30 March-1 April 2010 in City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: January 2011
CD No: HYPERION CDA67774
Duration: 73 minutes
Having already examined Hindemith’s compositions for viola in solo and in chamber capacity – respectively issued on Hyperion CDA 67769 and CDA67721 – Lawrence Power now turns his attention to the works written by the composer for his first instrument with orchestral accompaniment. In doing so he is joined by David Atherton, who brings his wealth of experience conducting 20th-century music to demonstrate a lucid understanding of Hindemith’s complex workings. This release represents a truthful overview of Hindemith’s versatility as a composer, working between the neo-classical attrition of his music from the 1920s and the emotive outpourings such as the deeply felt Trauermusik.
The standout work, however, is also the most obviously melodic. Der Schwanendreher (The Swan Turner) is a substantial concerto for viola and orchestra from 1935. Harking back to medieval times when turning a cooking swan was something of a vocation; this engaging work takes its lead from erstwhile folk tunes. There are gently nostalgic passages, indulged in lightly here but never over-egged. The charming duet between viola and brass in the slow movement is gently lyrical, while the more energetic march-episodes of the first assume impressive weight, countered as they are by the solemn brass chorales that respond to Power’s opening gambit. He is authoritative throughout, holding court as the tunes are developed but also signing-off the virtuosic episodes with panache.
The linear world of this example of the Kammermusik cycle also comes naturally to these forces, helped by a recording that gives the chamber orchestra keen rhythmic definition but also room in which to project. The motoric first movement, typical of 1920s’ Hindemith, gains spiky edges through incisive contributions from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra woodwinds. Hindemith’s economic scoring helps to throw the soloist into relief, an opportunity relished by Power. He is technically beyond reproach in the brilliant toccata-like passages, yet there is darker shading in the accompaniment, the relative lack of strings (only cellos and double basses are called for) resulting in a soundworld lean and brittle.
Konzertmusik (1930), which opens the disc, is also neo-classical in design and rhythmic profile, yet has more surface emotion. Dedicated to Darius Milhaud, it moves between outright bustle and virtuosity to thoughtful introspection. Power is particularly adept in the third movement, mastering the solo part as it twists through tricky melodic figurations, while in the slow second one he is ably supported by cor anglais and clarinet, the BBC Scottish wind-players imposing themselves on the music from the off with two darkly coloured chords.
These three impressive performances are bolstered by the fêted Trauermusik (1936) for viola and string orchestra, written and completed in the space of just six hours in response to the death of King George V and which at the request of the BBC replaced the scheduled UK premiere and broadcast of Der Schwanendreher with the composer as soloist and Adrian Boult conducting. Trauermusik is a profound utterance that here reaches depths of emotion thanks to the performers’ understanding of the music’s long reach.
Unfortunately Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) remains an underappreciated composer, yet the colourful performances of these four scores ably demonstrate his complete ability – from inventor, crafting new melodies as well as manipulating old ones, to his manifest skills as an orchestrator. If Hyperion could now secure the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for an examination of Hindemith’s orchestral works, our musical rewards would be rich indeed.