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The Glenn Gould Collection, Vol. 14: Glenn Gould Plays Hindemith
Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3
Five sonatas for brass instruments and piano, with
Gilbert Johnson, trumpet
Mason Jones, horn and alto horn 
Abe Torchinsky, bass tuba
Henry Charles Smith, trombone

Das Marienleben, Op. 27 (1922/23 version) 
With Roxolana Roslak, soprano
Glenn Gould, piano
Review By Joe Milicia


  A special highlight among the 20 multiple-CD sets in Sony's new "The Glenn Gould Collection" is the 4-CD box of music by Paul Hindemith, a composer the Canadian pianist greatly esteemed. As I described in my Enjoy the Music.com review of the Arnold Schoenberg set (also four CDs), the series features remastered sound, engaging booklet essays, and handsome graphic design, at bargain prices. The one serious drawback is Sony's failure, as with the Schoenberg set, to include the German text and translation for the vocal music, in this case the song cycle to poems by Rainer Maria Rilke that fills the fourth disc of this collection. Still, it's a pleasure to have these historic but insufficiently celebrated recordings together in one place.

According to the booklet notes, Hindemith's Mathis der Maler Symphony made a great impression upon the 15-year-old Gould, who in his own words "hated ALL FROM SONY SONY SONY music after Wagner" but "came alive to contemporary music" after hearing the composer's recording of the piece. Gould championed him in CBC broadcasts throughout his career and — though this seems incredible — won his only Grammy during his lifetime thanks to Hindemith: for the Best Liner Notes of 1973, in the form of an essay called "Hindemith: Will His Time Come? Again?"

Disc 1 is devoted to the three piano sonatas of 1935-36, which Gould recorded at the end of 1966 (Nos. 1 and 3) and 1973 (No. 2). Hindemith began writing them in Ankara (of all places), where he was helping to develop a music education program, at a time when his music was being banned in Nazi Germany. While the Second and Third Sonatas are compact four-movement works, 15 and 18 minutes long respectively, the First is ON FROM SONY menu header a grander scale, 32 minutes and in five movements. It's subtitled "The River Main," but lest the reader think it's a Moldau-style musical portrait of the river that flows through Frankfurt, Hindemith's home town, I should mention that the title alludes to a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin, in which the poet, feeling homeless, fantasizes about the glories of ancient Greece but finishes by recalling the "calm blessings" of the Main, near which Hölderlin too spent his youth.

Gould wrote in that Grammy-winning essay that Hindemith found "the true amalgam of reason and ecstasy: repose." Gould's performance of the first movement of the "Main" Sonata — marked "Ruhig" and played in a profoundly restful though also mournful manner — is a perfect illustration, as is the second movement "In the tempo of a very slow march." The third, opening "Lively," is more mercurial; an interesting online commentary by pianist Charles Fierro hears contrasts between "rude parade music" and "memories of tender old songs." The fourth movement is a variant upon the first, while the finale is vigorous in a distinctively Hindemithian way: whether it portrays the Main "joining your brother, the Rhine, then flowing joyfully down to the sea," to quote Holderlin's poem, I hesitate to suggest, but it does draw us toward an affirmative conclusion. Gould's unsentimental but committed performance suits the music extremely well.

I found myself especially liking Gould's performance of the very different Second Sonata. It's easy enough to say that this sonata follows a form common to Hindemith's middle and later periods: moderately brisk first movement, scherzo, slow movement in the form of a halting march, energetic finale (though in this case with a surprising slow conclusion). But I find it very difficult to pin down the music's affects: are the fast parts serious or quietly witty? Are slow sections lamenting or simply sober? However we attempt to analyze it, the music is rich in feeling, brought out by Gould's performance.

The Third Sonata is yet different, with an especially attractive opening movement, starting out briskly and genially, but becoming quieter and slower as it concludes. Following a very rapid and brief scherzo we have one of Hindemith's moderately paced marches, whose memorable tune is subjected to a number of surprising transformations, beautifully characterized by Gould. The finale is an elaborate fugue in which of course Gould is in his element, offering clarity, verve and a sense of structure.

The idea of recording Hindemith's five sonatas for brass instruments and piano came from CBS producer Andrew Kazdin, who worked with both Gould and the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble; the result was a double-LP set. I won't attempt to write an extensive comment on each sonata (written between 1939 and 1943, except for the Bass Tuba Sonata of 1955, and recorded 1975-76), but it's important to say that each one has a strong individual character, and that Gould is a sensitive partner to each of the brass players, themselves first chairs of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the time.

The Trumpet Sonata is a serious affair, with a powerful first movement (indeed, to be played Mit Kraft) and a funeral-march finale, ending "Very restfully". The Trombone Sonata contains a Lied des Raufbolds, translated as "Swashbuckler's Song," though most dictionaries go for "ruffian, "hooligan" or "rowdy person": in any case, the trombone part is appropriately swaggering. Curiously, the movement that precedes it is almost entirely for piano, with the trombone making only four mournful interjections.  The Tuba Sonata has an exceedingly droll first movement and an ingenious set of variations for a finale.

The Horn Sonata is a complex, predominantly melancholy work, but I'm finding myself more drawn to the Alto Horn Sonata (both played by Mason Jones). The latter work is full of musical surprises and contrasts — enough so to be memorable even if it were not written for an instrument so rarely heard by itself (the alto horn is mainly used in concert bands and has a mellower sound than the orchestral horn), and even if it did not oddly call for the players to recite a poem between the slow movement and the finale. Jones speaks his lines straightforwardly, like a good student in an English class, while Gould offers a hushed, studied reading, before leaping into a vigorous passage for piano alone.

Finally, the set offers a very full (79-minute) disc with a performance of the 15-song Das Marienleben, based on poems by Rilke portraying the life of the Virgin Mary. Hindemith wrote it quite early in his career (1922-23), then extensively rewrote it decades later, publishing a new version in 1948; but Gould championed the original version, calling it "the greatest song cycle ever written." He first performed the cycle with Lois Marshall in 1962 and talked of recording it with her, but eventually chose the Ukrainian-Canadian Roxolana Roslak. Is Das Marienleben the "greatest song cycle"? I wouldn't want to venture an opinion without devoting a great deal of study to it; but (to offer a newcomer's impression) it is a work of many lovely, though often austere, passages, with typically the vocal line moving more slowly than the pianist's counterpoint. As with his recordings of Schoenberg songs, Gould is a superb partner (not an "accompanist," though never attempting to dominate the proceedings). Roslak's voice is well suited to the cycle, capable of soaring in climaxes but providing sweetness in lyrical passages, though one might question whether or not she offers enough variety of tonal quality to sustain our interest through the entire work.

Sound quality is excellent for the era, though a degree lacking in the vivid presence heard in the best recordings of recent years. In the brass-and-piano recordings in particular the ideal would be a more "live" imaging, though I don't want to imply that the sound is truly muffled. Michael Stegemann's three booklet essays on Gould, including one called "A Dozen Dames" on female singers with whom he collaborated, are fascinating but do repeat certain points. And I regret the absence not only of Rilke's texts but also of the complete Gould essays from the LPs, including "The Tale of Two ‘Marienlebens.'" But the bargain price is some compensation.





Recording Quality: 
















































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