Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Arabella Steinbacher, Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten

The violin concertos of Paul Hindemith and of Benjamin Britten were both finished in 1939. Somewhat remarkably, until now I had no recording of Hindemith's work, and to the best of my knowledge I have never heard it before in my entire life. Today I heard it for the first time and I have to confess that I feel I have not been missing much. Hindemith's concerto is well-crafted in a highly Germanic post- Brahms and post- Bruch idiom. I suspect it is not much played, and I cannot say I am surprised.

The highly capable soloist (I imagine) is the glamorous Arabella Steinbacher. The usual excellent recording comes from Pentatone. I cannot see the CD spinning too often chez moi. But also on the CD is Britten's (suddenly) ever popular violin concerto. At this rate, the concerto will outpace that of Tchaikovsky in recordings and popularity! I commented recently (re Julia Fischer) how so many top violinists have suddenly discovered the work. Now Arabella has added it to her recorded repertoire and it is an excellent version. The Britten work is permeated with sadness; the Hindemith work admits to no emotions. The Britten is also one of those rare works where I do not feel that the finale is a bit of a let-down, and I am happy that it is at last enjoying a well-deserved popularity, after being sniffed at by critics for so long, and ignored by so many soloists of previous generations, with the honourable exception of Theo Olof (1948) and Bronislaw Gimpel (1961).

Arabella is never a girl in a hurry, and this Britten takes its time, particularly in the final passacaglia. Vladimir Jurowski and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra sound excellent and idiomatic, and Pentatone's recording makes this a highly useful three star addition to the catalogue of excellent recordings. It is really good to hear so much orchestral detail; in Britten's concerto, the orchestral part is extremely important; on a par with that of the soloist. As for Herr Hindemith and his violin concerto … Oh well, you can't win them all.

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