The music on this album is not unknown; a three-movement suite from Paul Hindemith's ballet Nobilissima visione is sometimes performed. This is the first performance of the entire ballet, however. The suite avoids the tricky question of just how one is supposed to derive ballet action from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and the listener may be forgiven for wondering whether Hindemith was the only composer who would have attempted such a thing. As it happens, Hindemith came up with a series of scenes inspired by Giotto's frescoes on the same subject, matching them to a sober language (not far from that of Mathis der Maler) that's a good deal less dissonant than that of the Pieces (5) for string orchestra, Op. 44, composed ten years earlier, which fill out the album. One may or may not guess the subject matter of the individual scenes from the music, but the whole thing has a pleasant low-key charm in which Hindemith's usual dryness is notably absent. This kind of thing is the bread-and-butter of conductor Gerard Schwarz and his Seattle Symphony, and they produce a clean performance that might almost be described as cheerfully spiritual, nicely recorded in a small recital hall associated with the orchestra. There's no word in the notes as to whether Leonid Massine's original choreography for the ballet survives (dance notation is a much more difficult proposition than that for music), but if it does, maybe the piece is worth a revival in performance.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|School Work for Instrumental Ensemble Playing, "music for use" for instruments, Op. 44|