Hindemith: Der Damon, Herodiade, Kammermusik Nos. 1 & 2 / Fischer-Dieskau, Ensemble Varianti

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Born in Hanau near Frankfurt-am-Main in 1895, where he was something of a musical prodigy, Hindemith entered Hoch’sche Konservatorium where he studied violin, composition and conducting. He supported himself by playing in local dance bands and theatre groups. He soon made his mark as a performer and became deputy leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra at the age of nineteen, becoming its leader three years later.

His early compositional style earned him the reputation of something of an enfant térrible. Whilst his music is modernist in outlook, he rejected some of the modern trends in music, including the teachings of Schoenberg, who he admired, in favour of a more individualistic outlook. In 1921 he had his String Quartet Op. 16 and his Kammermusik No. 1 performed at the Donaueschingen festival of contemporary music. This was followed by further performances of his music the following year at the International Society of Contemporary Music festival which served to bring Hindemith and his music to the attention of a wider audience.

The music presented on these two CDs seems to have been performed as part of the centenary celebrations of Hindemith’s birth during the 1995 Schwetzingen Festival. This is a well planned and executed concert which brings together two of his better known pieces with two of his less well known theatrical works.

Der Dämon or "The Demon" is described as "A Dance-Pantomime" and is set in two scenes, revolving around the said Demon's seduction of two sisters. In the first scene he seduces the first sister, leading the second sister into a Dance of Grief and Longing. The second scene deals with the second sister's advances towards the Demon and his rejection of her. I really enjoyed this performance. This is a work known for its more jazzy elements, and the Ensemble Varianti highlight this aspect far more than the Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt under Werner Andreas Albert on CPO (999 220-2) whose performance is more symphonic.

The Kammermusik No. 2 is in reality a mini piano concerto and marks the first in a six-part series of solo concertos which Hindemith completed in 1927. It has a highly virtuosic obbligato piano part and is in itself quite dramatic; it is believed that Hindemith composed his The Four Temperaments in order to stop George Balanchine re-working the Kammermusik No. 2 as a ballet presentation.

Herodiade which is a Ballet – Orchestral Recitation after Mallarmé, is the latest work presented here and displays greater maturity. It is available in two versions, one with recitation, and one purely orchestral. The one presented here has the wonderful Gisela Zach-Westphal whose declamation is far more dramatic than Ann Gicquel for Albert on CPO (999 220-2), although I do prefer his more orchestral sound and he does present both versions.

The final work on the disc is a spirited performance of the Kammermusik No. 1 with its famous finale entitled 1921 and siren-call ending. This was the piece that really announced Hindemith on the world-stage. Both of the Kammermusiks are given performances here that bring out the chamber music aspect more than in the other versions I have, Albert on CPO (999 301-2, 999 138-2) and Chailly on Decca (473 722-2). Even so, each version has a lot to offer.

These four works all have a significant role for the piano and here Florian Henschel is on top form, especially when you take into account that he was a late replacement for Sviatoslav Richter. His playing is strong and impassioned and he seems to make light of some fiendish sounding piano writing. As mentioned above, the Ensemble Varianti are excellent and really bring out the different colours in the music. As for Gisela Zach-Westphal she makes this disc worth buying just for her part in Herodiade. Whilst I knew that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau also liked to dabble in conducting, especially towards the end of his singing career, this is the first disc I have of him in this role. He manages to keep a tight control on his forces whilst not losing any excitement from the music. First rate performances.

The sound is clearly from a live event; you get the applause and one or two coughs. There is also a slight string twang that I am sure is not in the score. Despites this, these are performances that are full of thrilling and energetic playing. I would have loved to have attended this concert. The booklet essay is exemplary; it is detailed and informative and fills in a couple of blanks in my knowledge of this composer.

– MusicWeb International (Stuart Sillitoe)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: HC16014

  • UPC: 881488160147

  • Label: Hänssler & Profil

  • Composer: Paul Hindemith

  • Conductor: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Ensemble Varianti

  • Performer: Florian Henschel, Gisela Zoch-Westphal