Notes and Editorial Reviews
Klaviermusik mit Orchester.
Symphony No. 9,
“From the New World”
Christoph Eschenbach, cond; Leon Fleisher (pn); Curtis SO
ONDINE 1141 (64:08) Live: Philadelphia 4/27/2008
This is the world premiere recording of Hindemith’s
Piano Music with Orchestra
(piano left hand), commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein in 1922 and completed within six
months. Wittgenstein—a musical reactionary—never played it; the commissioning contract gave him exclusive performance rights for his lifetime, and he prohibited anyone else from doing so. After his death in 1961, his estate ignored all requests about the piece; in fact, it had lost the score. A flawed copy of the original manuscript turned up in a Pennsylvania farmhouse in 2002 and was successfully coordinated with sketches in the Hindemith archives. Fleisher gave the first performance with the Berlin Philharmonic in December 2004 and has taken it around the world since then; I heard him play it with the New York Philharmonic in November 2006.
Hindemith was just emerging from his avant-garde youth at that time—he put aside composition of
, his first serious major work, to write this concerto. The radical firebrand still shows up in three of the four movements, which are played without pause (beware my translations):
1. Einleitung. Massige schnelle Halbe (Introduction, Moderately fast half notes)
2. Sehr lebhafte Halbe (Very lively half notes)
3. Trio. Basso ostinato. Langsame Viertel, nur sehrwenig Ausdruck (Slow, only very little expression)
4. Bewegte Halbe (Agitated half notes)
The introduction is aggressive, loud, and brassy, but it does suggest the more staid Hindemith to come. The second movement is filled with outbursts from a large percussion group. A mysterious slow movement features a long duet between piano and English horn, which later gives way to a flute; it is reminiscent of the aborted love scene in the composer’s 1926 opera
. Fleisher believes that the movement’s basso continuo, which consists of 12 quarter notes (repeated) and uses 11 of the 12 tones, was poking fun at Schoenberg’s recently devised dodecaphonic system. The finale returns to the wild, nose-thumbing style of Hindemith’s 1920 opera
. Fleisher (in the New York Philharmonic program booklet of November 30, 2006) again notes passages filled with Hindemithian humor: “They give me great joy to play. The piece is one of his best.” Half a dozen hearings are beginning to reveal that humor to me.
Fleisher “owns” the left-hand repertoire, and is in this case the unique interpreter. He convinces one listener that this is exactly how the piece should go, revealing everything it has to say. The Curtis orchestra (“more than one hundred players between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five”) supplies solid, reliable accompaniment. If a few solos (trumpet, English horn) are not quite as beautiful as those from the New York Philharmonic, Eschenbach’s views of the music seem more sensitive than Maazel’s and the students more comfortable with the 85-year-old music than the New Yorkers.
Dvo?ák’s “New World” is played to top professional standards—the strings are gorgeous, as is Rebekah Daley’s first-desk French horn—but I don’t find the reading very interesting. The recorded sound is merely decent and a bit congested, far from the brilliance Ondine achieved (in this same Verizon Hall) for Martin?’s
Memorial to Lidice
, also a live performance, but admittedly an SACD. The booklet lists every player but oddly gives no credit for English horn, despite that instrument’s important solos in both works. The program writers for both the New York Philharmonic and this disc may have had no opportunity to study Hindemith’s score or hear his music, as they concentrate on its fascinating history.
FANFARE: James H. North
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