10/10 and Disc of the Month (July 2011), ClassicsToday.com and ClassicsTodayFrance.com
The three orchestral scores gathered here are certainly among Paul Hindemith’s most well-loved works, and for good reason. If his style in the 1920’s at times had struck listeners as sparse and utilitarian, in Mathis der Maler (from 1934) the musical language became more dramatic and more lyrically approachable, as well as more concerned with colour and light. Possibly the subject of the symphony had something to do with this, composed as it was in parallel with the opera of the same name, inspired by the life and work of the Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald. Conducted by Furtwängler, the symphony was a resounding success – but only months later the Nazi regime began to make Hindemith’s life difficult, for instance through an unofficial ban on radio broadcasts of his music.
Some years later the frescoes on the life of St Francis of Assisi by another Renaissance painter, Giotto, became the inspiration for Nobilissima Visione. This time the stage work had the prior existence, but Hindemith made a suite of the ballet score immediately after its triumphant first performance in London in 1938. Again there is a strong lyrical, at times elegiac, vein in the music, and as in Mathis, the historical setting offers the opportunity for allusions to music of earlier times, such as troubadour songs of the 13th century.
In the final work on this disc, the musical quotes are more overt – and less distant in time. In the Symphonic Metamorphosis – probably his most often performed orchestral work today – Hindemith uses themes by Carl Maria von Weber, but treats them entirely in his own mature manner, producing a largely good-humoured orchestral showpiece.
The various qualities in these scores are brought out with all the flair that we have become used to from the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and John Neschling. The team's numerous recordings of Villa-Lobos have met with universal acclaim, and their recently released disc of music by Respighi was called 'the best Roman Trilogy of recent times' in Classic FM Magazine and 'an extraordinary experience' on the German website klassik.com.