Hindemith/Bartok: Der Schwanendreher; Viola Concerto

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COMPOSERS: Hindemith/Bartok
LABELS: Albany TROY
WORKS: Der Schwanendreher; Viola Concerto
PERFORMER: Raphael Hillyer (viola); Japan PO /Akeo Watanabe
CATALOGUE NO: 076 AAD
I suppose Hindemith is unfashionable these days because so much of his vast output is functional rather than profound. The 20th century expects great things of its composers, and if music has nothing to ‘say’ we soon lose interest. But it’s a shame if this means missing out on a piece like Hindemith’s exhilarating Konzertmusik for brass and strings, especially when played with this degree of incisive virtuosity. His concerto for viola and small orchestra, Der Schwanendreher, is also well-crafted rather than original, but Geraldine Walther brings such character to the solo part (which Hindemith wrote for himself to play) that the pastiche German folk style holds the attention throughout. Nobilissima visione has had several recordings recently, but none better than Blomstedt’s warm and brilliantly detailed version; his orchestra, on this showing, is one of the finest anywhere in the world, and the Decca engineers oblige with suitably spectacular sound.

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It’s that element which is missing from Raphael Hillyer’s fervent accounts of Der Schwanendreher and the Bartók Concerto – the analogue recordings are not, I suspect, terribly new (no recording date is given), and the sound is dry and hissy. Hillyer plays both works with passionate intensity, but I would recommend this to viola enthusiasts only. Stephen Maddock