Hindemith: Cello Concerto; The Four Temperaments

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COMPOSERS: Hindemith
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Cello Concerto; The Four Temperaments
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Howard Shelley (piano)BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9124 DDD
The BBC Philharmonic’s first recordings with its new principal conductor augur well for its series dedicated to that most unfashionable of composers, Paul Hindemith.

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His three-movement suite from the ballet Nobilissima visione, a Diaghilev commission first staged in London in 1938, is perhaps the best-known piece here. Like its subject, St Francis of Assisi, the music is ascetic and spiritual, and culminates in a huge passacaglia in praise of the sun. Tortelier produces a fine performance, though the playing is not quite as warm as in Klemperer’s affectionate 1954 recording.

The Symphony in E flat dates from 1940, soon after Hindemith had left Germany for the USA. It combines the neo-classical optimism of Stravinsky’s contemporaneous Symphony in C and Symphony in Three Movements, with block scoring reminiscent of Shostakovich. The performance is purposeful and committed.

Theme and Variations: The Four Temperaments is another work which began life as a ballet score, and is scored for strings with solo piano. The four variations (Melancholy, Sanguine, Phlegmatic and Choleric) aim to demonstrate different aspects of the three part theme, though the absence of strong contrasts of mood has given rise to unkind references to ‘The Four Equal Temperaments’. Here, though, the BBC strings play with real passion, and Howard Shelley is a commanding soloist.

Even better is Raphael Wallfisch’s engaging performance of the Cello Concerto (also from 1940). It is an exhilarating work which calls to mind both Walton and Ravel, yet retains Hindemith’s own whimsical sense of fun.

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The recordings demonstrate an impressive dynamic range and warm sound. Stephen Maddock,