Hindemith: Symphony ‘Die Harmonie der Welt’; Symphonia serena

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COMPOSERS: Hindemith
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony ‘Die Harmonie der Welt’; Symphonia serena
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
Hindemith’s penultimate opera Die Harmonie der Welt (like Mathis der Maler before it) concerns a historical figure with whom the composer could strongly identify, in this case the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler. He had sought to establish a mathematical and philosophical relationship between the planetary system and musical language: this is the ‘Harmony of the World’, with which Hindemith’s own theories closely fitted. The three movements of this symphony, completed in 1951 and musically related to the opera, refer to the ‘three classes (of music) that we often encounter in the writings of the ancients’: musica instrumentalis, musica humana and musica mundana. Thus the work contains a rather mechanical first movement, a touching slow one and a contrapuntal finale which culminates in a passacaglia to set the spheres resounding in awesome E major. The Symphonia serena (1946) is one of Hindemith’s most cheerful works: his quirky sense of humour is evident both in the Scherzo for wind alone (based on a Beethoven march) and in the Colloquy for strings, with its violin and viola solos and offstage echoes. As in their two previous Hindemith discs, Tortelier coaxes superbly committed performances from the BBC Philharmonic, with characterful violin and oboe solos in particular. Chandos obliges with glorious technicolour sound. Stephen Maddock