Hindemith: Ludus tonalis; Suite ‘1922’, Op. 26

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COMPOSERS: Hindemith
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Ludus tonalis; Suite ‘1922’, Op. 26
PERFORMER: John McCabe (piano)
There have been sadly few recordings of Ludus tonalis, Hindemith’s polyphonic masterwork for piano. Two composer-pianists now offer fascinating contrasts in style. Mustonen emphasises the ludus (game) aspects. Mercurial, capricious, he throws off contrapuntal complexities with a feathery touch. It is cold, crystalline playing, tending to make a breathless toccata out of every fast movement. Mustonen’s extraordinary range and precise shading of dynamics, emphasised by a Decca recording of stunning quality, often go far beyond anything suggested in the score: this can lead to wilful distortion of dynamics and phrasing.


I prefer McCabe’s approach which, if more straightforward, yields much more of the music’s humanity. Every movement is characterised with understanding: he brings out the polka origins of Interlude Three, missed by Mustonen. His Fazioli piano makes a bigger sound, but Hyperion’s recording is more constricted. The early jazz suite 1922 makes a fascinating coupling, though the brilliance of Mustonen’s account of Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives is undeniable. Note, however, that a third version of Ludus tonalis, by Bernard Roberts, is imminent from Nimbus. Calum MacDonald