Idil Biret / Toshiyuki Shimada / Yale Symphony Orchestra

Hindemith: The Complete Piano Concertos

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Paul Hindemith composed only one official Piano Concerto, in the strict, Classical sense of a three-movement work for piano and orchestra, though he composed four other concertante pieces with the piano as the solo instrument, and they are all classed as piano concertos on this double-disc package from Naxos. While the Piano Music for piano left hand and orchestra and the Theme and Variations for piano and string orchestra are not exceptional in their instrumentation, Hindemith's fertile imagination yielded many works with unconventional combinations, such as the Concert Music for piano, brass, and 2 harps, and the Chamber Music No. 2 for piano and 12 instruments, which show his avid interest in playing diverse tone colors off each other. At the center of these performances is Idil Biret, the prolific virtuoso who has established herself as one of the most important artists to record for Naxos, with numerous recordings to her credit. She plays Hindemith's music with a crisp tone and a dry, unsentimental approach that sorts well with the spiky harmonies and cerebral counterpoint, so often on display in these works. There is no sense of the Romantic protagonist here, even in the Piano Concerto, because Hindemith's writing runs counter to that stereotype, and his concept of Gebrauchsmusik (utility music) takes the heroic element out of this utterly modernist concerto. Idil Biret is joined by harpists Olivia Coates and Chelsea Lane, and the Yale Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Toshiyuki Shimada, and these artsists deliver bracing and intellectually stimulating performances that Hindemith would have no doubt approved.

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