No doubt there are plenty of candidates for the first post-modern piece of music; but with the exception of Walton's exactly contemporary Facade, none has better credentials than the first of Hindemith's Kammermusiken. ''Pull the other one'', you feel like saying, after Hindemith's irresponsible fusion of Petrushka and hot jazz in the first movement. And, having hinted in his middle movements that the Rondo-Burleske from Mahler's Ninth Symphony and Part One of
All this has the feeling of a fountain of new life. As well it might, since in its time it was tantamount to a manifesto on the overthrow of musical Expressionism. But this feeling is also a tribute to an immensely accomplished and vivid performance, and to a daringly close-miked recording which lets the ear savour every anarchic note, every outre combination of timbres.
Among the 33 movements on these two discs there are inevitably some that seem less than wholly inspired. Slow movements in particular have a tendency to meander, and when fast ones eschew theatrical gestures you begin to see why Hindemith became dissatisfied with the permissiveness of his harmonic language. The last two concertos, for viola d'amore and organ respectively, date from 1927, when the process of rationalization was well under way, and to me at least they seem to do little more than go through the motions—the young iconoclast puts on his city suit. Elsewhere though, there is an intriguing ambivalence in the air—the Tchaikovskian toy soldiers in the middle movement of the Kleine Kammermusik have half-broken springs; the Cello Concerto (
Solo performances are uniformly excellent, and Chailly and his musicians sound consistently at home with the idiom. My Harmonia Mundi LP set (5/79—nla) of the seven Kammermusiken played by the Ensemble 13 of Baden-Baden will still come down from the shelves from time to time, if only for a glance at its outstanding essays and its reproductions of Hindemith's own cartoon drawings. But for listening purposes the new Decca wins at every turn. For performances, recording quality and musical stimulation this is an issue of outstanding interest and importance.'