br klassik hindemith cardillac

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Cardillac, Op. 39, opera in three acts & four scenes (1925/26)
Markus Eiche (baritone) – Cardillac, Goldsmith
Juliane Banse (soprano) – Cardillac’s Daughter
Michaela Selinger (mezzo-soprano) – Lady
Torsten Kerl (tenor) – Officer
Oliver Ringelhahn (tenor) – Courtier, Cavalier
Kay Stiefermann (bass-baritone) – Provost Marshal
Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass) – Gold Merchant
Prager Philharmonischer Chor
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Stefan Soltész
rec. live, October 2013, Prinzregententheater, Munich, Germany
BR Klassik 900345 [2 CDs: 91]

Cardillac was Hindemith’s first full-length opera. It was a sensational success at its premiere in 1926 and several new productions followed. However, not long after the arrival of the Nazis, Hindemith’s music was banned and he left Germany. In 1952 he prepared a revised version of the score, but since his death this has generally been displaced by the original version, which is what we have here.

The libretto is based on a story by E. T. A Hoffman, Mademoiselle de Scudery, but so loosely that Hoffman’s title character disappears and the centre of attention is Cardillac. He is a goldsmith, whose obsessive love for his creations leads him to murder those who buy them so as to repossess them. In the course of the opera he eventually admits his guilt and is himself murdered by the crowd. His Daughter is united with the Officer who loves her. Only Cardillac is given a personal name, and the other characters just have their role names. The action is set in seventeenth century Paris.

In this work Hindemith largely abandons the expressionism of his earlier works, including his three one act operas, in favour of the idiom known in German as Neue Sachlichkeit, new objectivity, which was the German equivalent of neoclassicism. Atmospheric writing, whether of the Wagnerian, impressionist or expressionist kind, is abandoned in favour of clear melodic lines, polyphony and rhythmic vigour. The opera is quite a short work, the three acts coming to only an hour and a half, and about the same length as Berg’s Wozzeck, which it also resembles in that each scene is in a musically self-contained form. However, I note that sometimes expressionism creeps in, as in the inn scene, where the dance music is distorted in the same way as in the inn scene of Wozzeck. Nor does Hindemith here generally care to offer the sense of compassion and humanity which infuses his next opera, the better-known Mathis der Maler, arguably his masterpiece, though this quality does emerge in the last scene.

This recording, of a live performance from 2013, is issued in memory of the conductor Stefan Soltész, who died in 2022. He was active as an opera conductor in Germany and Europe generally. He conducts an energetic and enthusiastic performance, securing incisive playing from the Munich orchestra. Markus Eiche sings the title role convincingly though without the anguish I remember Fischer-Dieskau bringing to the part years ago. The other singers are all good, but I would single out the wonderful Juliane Banse as Cardillac’s daughter, who is always a pleasure to hear.

The recording is live but of good quality. Applause is included. The booklet contains an essay on the opera and a detailed synopsis. There have been three previous audio recordings, by Joseph Keilberth, Gerd Albrecht and Kent Nagano, and one DVD, by Wolfgang Sawallisch. All are of the original 1926 original version. I remember the Keilberth version, which dates from 1969 and was based on a stage production; this was the one with Fischer-Dieskau in the title role; the DG recording included the text and a translation. The absence of a text and translation here precludes a general recommendation, but even without this I found this a gripping and impressive work and performance.

Stephen Barber

Previous reviews: Mike Parr (October 2023) ~ Michael Cookson (October 2023)

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