It turns out we haven’t been missing a thing all these years.
Despite a sudden heartening spurt in recordings of the mercurial music of Paul Hindemith, the great embattled 20th century German composer is still not quite as popular on disc or in concert halls as he once was. And that, frankly, makes this new recording by the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, absolutely startling.
The most justly popular orchestral works of Hindemith, by far, have been the symphonies made from his operas “Mathis Der Maler” and “Die Harmonie der Welt,” the symphony in E-Flat and the suite from the ballet “Noblissima Visione.” (The most played Hindemith work now is the well-constructed but inconsequential “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.”)
It was Hindemith who responded to a 1936 request for a ballet by choreographer Leonide Massime with a suggestion on a life of St. Francis based on Giotto’s Frescoes, which Hindemith had just seen and couldn’t get out of his head. When Massime declared the resultant music more concert music than ballet music, Hindemith responded in 1938 with a 20-minute, three-movement suite from the ballet “Noblissima Visione” that is a masterpiece as well as one of his best-known works.
On this, many of us are – somewhat incredibly – hearing the whole ballet for the first time. So it is – to me anyway – a bit of recording history. It’s also a sample of history’s sound musical judgment in never demanding its recorded appearance before. The 20-minute suite is, by far, the best of “Noblissima Visione.”
To hear it complete is, nevertheless, a wonderful curiosity for those who know and even love Hindemith. It is, I assure you possible, as no one knew better than Glenn Gould in one of best essays. The five pieces from 1927 were originally pedagogical (as was so much of his music) and little more than filler for “Noblissima Visione” on this disc.
Seattle Symphony, “Noblissima Visione” and “Five Pieces for String Orchestra,” [Naxos]