HINDEMITH The Long Christmas Dinner
Thornton Wilder was one of the most musical of playwrights yet throughout his life rejected requests to set his plays to music. So his remarkably harmonious collaboration with Hindemith for The Long Christmas Dinner (1960 61) is all the more welcome. A wonderful lyric opera – not a note too short, which leaves one wanting more – this artfully constructed one-act work is the jewel of Hindemith’s late output.
The composer created the German-language version – which was premiered, and indeed recorded, first – alongside the English original (both are included in the booklet). I welcomed Janowski’s German version a decade ago in these pages as ‘a fluent, superbly paced account, sung well throughout, accompanied by some splendid orchestral playing’ and that judgement rings just as true for Leon Botstein’s beautifully rendered English-language version, captured at a live performance at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall last year. In many ways this newcomer scores over Janowski’s studio recording – made in partnership with Berlin Radio – in atmosphere, though there is little to choose between the two casts and orchestras. Camille Zamora as the Lucias is the equal of Ziesak for Wergo and Sara Murphy’s closing aria as Ermengarde here is marvellously poignant.
Ultimately, if language is the paramount concern, go for Janowski if you want German, otherwise I’d recommend Botstein. Bridge’s vivid sound edges Wergo’s with an immediacy that is winning, although the German label’s more manicured sound may appeal to some. I’ll take both in preference, but why did Bridge put a 49 minute opera in a large multi CD box?