Hindemith: Tuttifantchen – Christmas Fairy Tale / Zurl, Berlin Deutches Symphonie Orchester

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HINDEMITH Tuttifänchen Johannes Zurl, cond; Herman Wallén (Meister Tuttifant puppet maker); Nora Lentner (Trudel his daughter); Bele Kumberger (Tuttifänchen his puppet); Sebastian Bluth (Punoni director of the puppet theater); Annika Schlicht (Mutter Berthe); various actors; Berlin R Children’s Ch; Deutsches SO Berlin CPO 777 802-2 (72:20 Text and Translation)

Tuttifänchen is a children’s Christmas play with music, originally inspired by a tale for and about a puppet theater. Hindemith wrote the music in 1922, shortly after he had come to public attention with his three avant-garde operas ( Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen; Das Nusch-Nuschi; Sancta Susanna ) and his op. 16 String Quartet. The tale—a distant cousin of Pinocchio —concerns a puppet who comes to life and causes everyone a lot of trouble. The music is simple and direct—when the puppets in the story dance a ballet, they do so to a sprightly, elegant foxtrot based on a Gottschalk Cakewalk —with no hint of the avant-garde. The chamber orchestra has single winds; Hindemith’s orchestration is light and nearly as colorful as that of his friend Franz Schreker. The vocal parts “can be sung by good actors,” but they are taken here by professional singers, all of whom are delightful. There is a good deal of conversation, argument, laughing, crying, and screaming (on 19 tracks) during these 72 minutes, connecting 23 tracks of songs, duets, melodramas (by the puppet), intermezzos, marches, a lullaby, and ensembles. It is all in German, which I cannot follow in real time, but the action is lively and the actors—children as well as adults—spirited. A side-by-side German/English libretto gives us only the 23 musical numbers; unfortunately, it also ignores a march (track 29) that includes an aria.

Hindemith’s reputation today is that of a serious composer of serious music; he looks the part in photos, but he was a light-hearted fellow with a lively sense of humor, a cartoonist who drew his own whimsical Christmas cards each year. This charming children’s play is in tune with the inner Hindemith, and its consistent quality reflects his always solid craftsmanship. The work begins to turn serious near the end: A final melodrama, in which the puppet decides to return to the fir tree from whence he came, has some of the most serene music you will ever hear; it could be a Bach chorale drawn through Brahms. The following lullaby is also gorgeous, and the play closes with a rousing Christmas carol, solemn yet joyful. Bits and pieces of this music have appeared before, some in piano reductions, but I believe this is its first complete recording. You don’t need to be either German or a child to enjoy Tuttifänchen . It is a minor masterpiece of its kind, and this production does it full justice.

FANFARE: James H. North

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777802-2

  • UPC: 761203780228

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Paul Hindemith

  • Conductor: Johannes Zurl

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Berlin Deutches Symphonie Orchester, Bruggemann Rundfunkkinderchor