Simone Young

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler

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The greatest strength of Oehms Classics' live recording of the Hamburg Staatsoper 2005 production of Mathis der Maler is the supple and dramatic conducting of Simone Young, the Australian general manager of the company. The score contains some of Hindemith's most overtly romantic and emotionally expressive music, as well as some extended passages that sound like academic note-spinning. Young is remarkably successful in accentuating the score's moments of sensuality, such as the opening "Concert of Angels," and manages to keep the dramatic momentum up during the more pedestrian passages. The set's major weakness is the wobbly intonation of Falk Struckmann in the title role. He's dramatically forceful and is a charismatic protagonist, but Hindemith's non-triadic harmonies require absolute precision of intonation to keep from sounding like mush, and Struckmann falls short on that count; it's hard to forget Fischer-Dieskau's pure, virile singing on the Deutsche Grammophon's LP of excerpts conducted by Leopold Ludwig (issued before his recording of the complete opera under Rafael Kubelik), which deserves to be reissued on CD. In the crucial role of Albrecht, Scott MacAllister is more persuasive, singing with precision and giving convincing shape to the composer's vocal lines. The youthfulness of his sound adds an interesting dynamic to his relationship with Mathis; a politically powerful, but young Cardinal makes an intriguing and counterintuitive foil for the mature but politically powerless artist. The remaining cast is fully adequate, and the ensemble work is good, even though few other voices stand out. The shapeliness of Young's conducting makes this a recording that should be of interest to fans of the opera, but the lack of stellar singing is unlikely to convert Hindemith's skeptics. The sound is full, clean, and well balanced for a live opera performance.

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