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Claudio Monteverdi: Orfeo (Hindemith's Reconstrucion)

Monteverdi / Bringon / Vso / Hindemith
Release Date: 06/08/2010 
Label:  Music & Arts   Catalog #: 1237   Spars Code: AAD 
Composer:  Spoken WordClaudio MonteverdiGiovanni Gabrieli
Performer:  Frederick GuthrieGino SinimberghiMona PauleeUta Graf,   ... 
Conductor:  Paul Hindemith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Symphony OrchestraVienna Singakademie
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 49 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MONTEVERDI L’Orfeo. G. GABRIELI Symphoniae Sacrae: Virtute magna; Nunc dimittis. Sonata octavi toni Paul Hindemith, cond; Patricia Brinton ( La Musica ); Gino Sinimberghi ( Orfeo ); Uta Graf ( Euridice ); Norman Foster ( Caronte ); Mona Paulee Read more ( Prosperina ); Frederick Guthrie ( Plutone ); Waldemar Kmentt ( Apollo ); Auguste Schmoczer ( Ninfa ); Vienna Singakademie Ch; Vienna SO MUSIC & ARTS 1237, mono (2 CDs: 108:59) Live: Vienna 6/3/1954

This remarkable document, now in its third CD incarnation in recent years though commercially unavailable long before that, crystallizes years of research into both Baroque performance practice and authentic instrumentation by none other than modernist composer Paul Hindemith. Whatever you may think of Hindemith as a composer—and I, personally, don’t like most of his music though I admire and enjoy a few pieces—you can’t take anything away from him as a great musician and a first-class musical mind. He was one of the few outstanding viola players of his day and certainly knew his music inside-out.

Although a performance of sorts of L’Orfeo was given in 1923, and an early recording of the opera made for the fledgling L’Oiseau-Lyre label around 1940, both of these were based on the flawed edition of the score first published in 1927. For whatever reason, Hindemith was deeply upset by this misrepresentation of Monteverdi’s original conception, and so took a large chunk of time out of his playing, composing, and teaching schedule to reconstruct the score with remarkable insight and precision. He first published his findings in 1943 and gave the American premiere of the opera while teaching at Yale. This 1954 performance, which opens with a speech (in German), is presented as Hindemith’s attempt to reconstruct the premiere of the opera. To this end, he includes two choruses and a short sonata by Gabrieli by way of a prologue, which were given at the Mantua court as a prelude to Monteverdi’s opera.

By way of sidelight, there is an interesting term paper by a Cambridge University music student online titled Modernism, Rhetoric and (De-)Personalisation in the Early Music Movement (bsherman.net/golomb1.htm). The paper, which leans heavily on Richard Taruskin’s writings but also cites Theodor Adorno, criticizes the modern classical world in general but the “early-music movement authenticists” in particular for removing all human elements of feeling and warmth from performances of early music. The author, citing Taruskin, primarily blames Igor Stravinsky for imposing an “objectivist” view on all classical music and states that most modern performances of everything are supposed to sound as if conducted by Stravinsky, but he also throws some darts at Hindemith for his sharp criticism of “warm-hearted” Bach performances, saying that cleaner, cooler, less fussy performances of this music make Bach more of “a real fellow.”

There may be some validity in this view since, early in his career, Stravinsky lambasted Bach in particular for being too sanctimonious, saying that he created cathedrals in sound that he, Stravinsky, did not feel comfortable entering, but to the best of my knowledge Stravinsky never actually conducted a performance of early music in his life and certainly none that have been recorded. As for Hindemith—or anyone else Taruskin or Adorno (whose musical writings I personally find contradictory and full of class bias in favor of the educated elite) chooses to blame for our modern tendencies—we must actually hear what they did with early music before passing judgment, and what one hears in this L’Orfeo performance is a very genial, warm-hearted compromise between authentic instrumentation and contemporary views of ancient music. Hindemith’s orchestra, though forced to combine early instruments with some modern ones, plays in a jaunty, lively rhythmic style at odds with many (but by no means all) modern ensembles. His chorus sings with vibrato and they shade their dynamics in terms of well-judged crescendos and diminuendos rather than our modern penchant for terraced dynamics. And his soloists, though surprisingly well skilled in an earlier style of singing that had become virtually extinct by 1954, likewise have some vibrato in their voices. More interestingly, they sing with a great deal of feeling, particularly Gino Sinimberghi in the title role.

About 30 years ago, long before I heard this performance, I discovered a rare old DG Archiv LP set of the opera recorded in 1955. It was conducted by August Wenzinger and had but one name known to me in the cast, a very young Fritz Wunderlich as Orfeo (which is why I took a chance on it). Unlike Hindemith, who made a few compromises, Wenzinger led an orchestra made up entirely of ancient instruments. The result was so badly off-key that listening was painful; I couldn’t even get through the whole recording. Thus we can see that there was a considerable gap in quality, in those years, in “authentic” performances of early music, and it was Hindemith’s performance—in which Nikolaus Harnoncourt played viola da gamba—and not the Wenzinger that Harnoncourt later described as affecting him “like a lightning bolt.”

And so we are faced with a contradiction in terms and actual realization. Hindemith’s performance of L’Orfeo is brisk, clean, and lacking sentiment, but not at all lacking emotion or feeling. In style, it’s very close to what the New York Pro Musica and British conductor Thurston Dart were doing at about the same time. This is the early music movement in its infancy, yet in many ways it surpasses much of what came later. Only John Eliot Gardiner’s and Reinhard Goebel’s performances of early music have, to my ears, the same kind of emotional warmth and impact as this particular performance.

As I said, this is not the only CD incarnation of this performance. A few years ago it appeared on ORF 2012773 and can still be had for ¤28.90 (or $35.72) online. Concurrent with this release, an inexpensive version has also come out on Andromeda 9069. I have not heard either of those other two pressings, but judging solely by what I have before me I find it difficult to believe that either could surpass the Music & Arts issue, which is taken from the original master tapes and processed by an anonymous engineer using an Algorithmix processor. The resultant sound is free of extraneous tape hiss or other surface noise, any pitch wavering has been corrected, and both the upper and lower ranges of the instruments and voices emerge crystal-clear. My lone complaint is that the liner notes on Hindemith’s reconstruction are in German only, with no translation, and his four-minute opening speech is also not translated. Otherwise, this is strongly recommended as a second version, at least, to whichever stereo recording of the opera you prefer.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi
Performer:  Frederick Guthrie (Bass), Gino Sinimberghi (Tenor), Mona Paulee (Voice),
Uta Graf (Soprano), Waldemar Kmentt (Tenor), Auguste Schmoczer (Voice),
Norman Foster (Baritone)
Conductor:  Paul Hindemith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Symphony Orchestra,  Vienna Singakademie
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1607; Mantua, Italy 
Date of Recording: 06/03/1954 
Venue:  Grossen Konzerthaussaal, Wien 
Symphoniae Sacrae: Virtute magna by Giovanni Gabrieli
Performer:  Uta Graf (Voice), Hans Strohbauer (Voice), Frederick Guthrie (Voice),
Patricia Benton (Voice), Waldemar Kmentt (Voice), Mona Paulee (Voice),
Gino Sinimberghi (Voice), Ana Maria Iriarte (Voice), Norman Foster (Voice),
Dagmar Hermann (Voice), Wolfram Mertz (Voice), Gertrud Schretter (Voice)
Conductor:  Paul Hindemith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Symphony Orchestra,  Vienna Singakademie
Period: Renaissance 
Date of Recording: 06/03/1954 
Venue:  Grossen Konzerthaussaal, Wien 
Length: 3 Minutes 24 Secs. 
Symphoniae Sacrae: Nunc dimittis by Giovanni Gabrieli
Performer:  Wolfram Mertz (Voice), Dagmar Hermann (Voice), Frederick Guthrie (Voice),
Patricia Benton (Voice), Hans Strohbauer (Voice), Norman Foster (Voice),
Uta Graf (Voice), Ana Maria Iriarte (Voice), Gino Sinimberghi (Voice),
Mona Paulee (Voice), Waldemar Kmentt (Voice), Gertrud Schretter (Voice)
Conductor:  Paul Hindemith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Symphony Orchestra,  Vienna Singakademie
Period: Renaissance 
Date of Recording: 06/03/1954 
Venue:  Grossen Konzerthaussaal, Wien 
Length: 3 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Sacrae symphoniae, Book 1: Sonata octavi toni a 12 by Giovanni Gabrieli
Conductor:  Paul Hindemith
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1597; Venice, Italy 
Date of Recording: 06/03/1954 
Venue:  Grossen Konzerthaussaal, Wien 
Length: 3 Minutes 17 Secs. 

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