WORKS: Die Harmonie der Welt
PERFORMER: François Le Roux, Michelle Breedt, Tatiana Korovina, Sophie Larson, Robert Wörle; Berlin Radio Chorus, Berlin RSO/Marek Janowski
CATALOGUE NO: WER 6652 2
More philosophical than theatrical, Hindemith’s penultimate opera (Munich, 1957) picks up again on one of the major preoccupations of his career: the relationship between a creative mind and wider society. After such towering operas as Cardillac and Mathis der Maler, this work is something of an anticlimax, albeit a fascinating and even imposing one. Die Harmonie der Welt is based on the life of the astronomer Johannes Kepler, and set against the background of the Thirty Years War. It deals with the astronomer’s search for universal harmony, something that appealed to a composer who worked within his own ‘tonal planetary system’ in which the tonic exercised a strong gravitational pull.
But it is a long haul, not helped by the composer’s own libretto (never mind Wagner, shades of Tippett and even Maw). There are wonderful big episodes, such as the final visionary blaze in which the characters reappear as planets, but generally the intimate scenes (for instance the touching depictions of Kepler and his young daughter) are the most memorable. The public scenes tend to trundle along in a torturous style that is neither very ‘difficult’ nor very user-friendly.
Still, I’m glad to have heard this premiere recording, conducted impressively by Marek Janowski. In the title role, François Le Roux gives a cultivated, humane performance, and Michelle Breedt sings his superstitious mother-in-law with warmth while capturing the character’s nervous energy. Tatiana Korovina sounds fresh as his daughter, and if Sophie Larson (his wife) and Robert Wörle (the warlord Wallenstein) leave a little to be desired, this recording is nevertheless very well worth investigating. John Allison