Naxos 8.582863 (2014)
Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione (Complete Ballet)
Five Pieces for String Orchestra Op. 44 #4
As someone who has always aspired to be a true Hindemith complete-ist, I am absolutely over-the-moon with this new release from Naxos, presenting a gloriously unabridged recording of Nobilissima Visione, Hindemith's 1938 ballet score for Leonid Massine. (This is not, as Naxos claims, the first recording of the complete score; that distinction goes to Anton Rickenbacher with the Bamburg Symphony (Koch-Schwann 3-1299-2H1 (1995).)
Inspired by the stunning frescoes of Giotto depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and drawing inspiration from the nascent early-music revival of the 1930s (the first recording of Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame had been made in France only a year or so before this composition) Hindemith seems to have been particularly enthused about this project, which resulted in some of his most beautiful, moving, and powerfully enduring music.
The "new" music presented here is, as one might expect, workmanlike yet highly accessible, tunefully reverent, solemn, and serenely earnest, very much in the vein of Mathis der Maler. Those familiar with the ubiquitous three-movement concert suite from Nobilissima Visione will be struck at just how cleverly the composer excerpts, rearranges and effectively repurposes this material. They may also be surprised at where some of that familiar music appears in the complete score. The first bars, especially, are very different in tone and character, and most of the material comprising the suite's opening movement comes from much later in the ballet
Gerard Schwarz leads a serviceable, committed performance of the complete score, though not quite in the same rarefied class of the finest recordings of the suite, notably James DePriest with the Royal Philharmonic (Delos D- (LP) or CD-1006 (1986)) or Herbert Blomstedt with the San Francisco Symphony (Decca (London) 433-809-2 (1993). Naxos' recorded sound seems at times a bit on the dry side, wanting greater depth and perspective. The Seattle string section, as in so many of this orchestra's recordings, is vexed by a certain thinness of texture, an attenuated quality lacking the last full measure of richness and body. (Though, to be fair, the Five Pieces for String Orchestra Op. 44 #4 that fill out this disc are well-balanced and more than adequate.)
Though not the first recording of the unabridged score, this will still be "new" to many. Recommended for the nonce.