Boris Berezovsky (piano)
Recorded on 23 & 24 February 2006 in the Philharmonia Great Hall, Ekaterinburg
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: January 2007
CD No: WARNER CLASSICS
Duration: 72 minutes
Ludus tonalis has claims to be one of the greatest of piano cycles from the 20th-century. Fugues and Interludes prefaced by a ‘Praeludium’ and concluded with a ‘Postludium’ may not sound especially appealing to the heart and the senses (or to the eye given the 25 sections are each scripted in Latin!), but this is aurally not the case. Hindemith’s 1942 work is gripping and masterly; a study in counterpoint, yes – and very much looking to Bach for inspiration – and recognisably by Hindemith in terms of harmony and other musical fingerprints as well as revealing a wealth of variety.
From the very opening, a call-to-attention flourish, the listener is gripped by a lava-flow of invention while recognising that Hindemith really knew what he was about; his organisation across a 50-minute span is masterly and heterogeneous; and there is no lack of heart and wit: an inescapable gravitas that this composer was on a mission to meld an emotional journey with rigorous construction.
The end result is enthralling: Ludus Tonalis (translated here as “Game of (musical) notes”) is both whimsical and tightly organised and contains much that is engaging; try, for example, ‘Interludium sextum: Marcia’, which leaps off the page with Haydnesque joie de vivre while (consciously?) nodding to William Walton in its bluff humour. (The two composers were friends: Hindemith was the soloist in the premiere of Walton’s Viola Concerto, in 1929, and Walton composed Variations on Theme by Hindemith in 1963.)
Ludus Tonalis demands a pianist of enormous technical and intellectual resource – Sviatoslav Richter was an earlier champion of it – and the dashing Boris Berezovsky seems set to introduce this masterpiece to a new generation.
Also captured in fine sound is Suite 1922, written in that year, something of an enfant terrible work, which the composer later disowned. Including movements headed ‘Shimmy’ and ‘Ragtime’, Hindemith, with freedom and stimulus, adds 1920s’ modernism to popular forms. Again, Berezovsky does it proud.