ALBUM TITLE: Hindemith
WORKS: Symphony ‘Mathis der Maler’; Symphony in E flat
PERFORMER: NDR Sinfonieorchester/ Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1275-2
The Symphony ‘Mathis der Maler’ is one of Paul Hindemith’s most frequently recorded works, and with good reason. Both in its symphonic and full operatic guise, the music for Mathis represents the peak of his middle period, and it was following the Symphony’s premiere by the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler in 1934 that the Nazis banned Hindemith’s work, with Goebbels later that year labelling him an ‘atonal noisemaker’. Addressing the artist’s place in society, Mathis summed up German musical resistance to the Nazi regime, but it retains its appeal today for orchestras and listeners alike.
Christoph Eschenbach and the NDR Symphony Orchestra give a fine performance, in quite spacious tempos, without really challenging the best recordings. The recorded sound is good – you wouldn’t know it is ‘live’ – yet the playing lacks ideal glow, something necessary in such celestial pieces as the opening ‘Concert of Angels’ (the titles being derived from panels in the Isenheim Altarpiece of Mathias Grünewald).
The less frequently recorded Symphony in E flat, premiered in Minneapolis in 1941 under Dimitri Mitropoulos, makes this new release a stronger proposition. It is an invigorating work that blends American orchestral virtuosity with German symphonic rigour, and this performance catches its colour and drive. The work’s Beethovenian structure (in four movements) and indeed energy came across here, as does the almost Brucknerian quality of its dark-hued, brassy apotheoses. A conductor who, like Hindemith, has divided his career between Germany and America, Eschenbach has all the requisite feeling for Hindemith’s world.