One of two candidates for absolute best recording of these H
Martin Selbrede | The Woodlands, Texas | 01/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For Mathis der Maler and the Symphonic Metamorphoses, two interpretations rise like cream to the top. This is one of them -- and it's a live recording across the board. Audience noise is imperceptible, and the intensity and control mustered by the Israel Philharmonic is second to none. This "live factor" (apart from recording acoustics and balances) is the primary one distinguishing this CD from the other contender for the throne: Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic (also on DG). The Abbado "Mathis" is live, but the other two works are studio renditions. In any event, Bernstein and Abbado both offer outstanding interpretations, and easily beat out the competition. (As a Hindemith completionist, I have every other version -- including out-of-print versions -- and speak out of actual familiarity with the recordings.) These best any other recording. The problem is, comparing them with each other. That's tough. It's hard to be without either.
The final coupling differs between this album and the Abbado: Abbado gives us Nobilissima Visione, while Bernstein cooks up an exciting Op. 50 Concert Music for Strings and Brass. Abbado's Nobilissima is the best, while Bernstein's Concert Music has strong competition from the last Ormandy/Philadelphia recording (which also has a likely 3rd-place contender for the Symphonic Metamorphoses). This difference in couplings may sway you: if you're looking for more accessible Hindemith, the Abbado mix is preferable. If you're looking for more bite, Bernstein's program choice is more acerbic and striking, and he brings out the expansive string melody in the first movement beautifully. (Bernstein regarded that melody, punctuated by brass utterances, as one of the greatest 20th century melodies ever written, as he pointed out in his published writings.)
For Mathis, pretty much a dead heat, even though the versions are hardly carbon-copies. This is itself amazing. Third place on the Mathis symphony would be a tough call. Let me suggest that, so far as the first movement, Engelkonzert, is concerned, the 3rd place slot goes to Kubelik's opera reading, where that symphony movement serves as the opera overture (unchanged).
Bottom line: you can't go wrong with this Hindemith recording, or with the Abbado. There simply are no better. If you're not inclined to get both, then choose between them based on the difference in program content."
Bernstein toward the end, with deep emotion
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 04/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Hindemith program comes from late in Bernstein's career -- April, 1989, a year and a half before his final public concert with the BSO at Tanglewood. Taken from a live concert in Tel Aviv, the recording is clear, close-up, and free of digital glare. The Israel Phil. lays claim to being the ensemble that LB was most dedicated to, right from its earliest days as the Palestine Sym. after the war. Usually these three popular orchestral works (the only ones from Hindemith' prolific output to enter the standard symphonic repertoire) are played for spectcale and bravura. Here they are played for emotion and meaning.
I know of few rivals that can make such a claim. Abbado with the London Sym., William Steinberg with Boston, and Herbert Blomstedt with San Francisco can all boast better orchestras -- and Blomstedt has been given great Decca sound -- but Bernstein at this late stage used every ounce of his remaining strength to infuse socres with life-or-death intensity. Sometimes this resulted in painful slowness and overcooked emotionalism. In this case, however, the conductor draws out a depth of feeling that nobody else really touches on. Tempos are not especially slow, yet every phrase feels completely considered.
It's easy to find satisfying recordings of Mathis der Maler, the Konzertmusik, ad the Symphonic Metamorphoses, but even with one or two flashy examples on the shelf, this moving document has a unique appeal."