14 Hindemith Marin AlsopHindemith – Mathis der Maler; Nusch-Nuschi-Tänze; Sancta Susanna
Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien; Wiener Singakademie; Marin Alsop
Naxos 8574283 (naxosdirect.com/search/8574283)

The title work on this terrific all-Hindemith release, Symphony ‘Mathis der Maler’, gets a probing, gutsy performance from Marin Alsop and the superb ORF Vienna Radio Symphony. For 27 dramatic minutes, we’re swept into the harsh, visionary world depicted by the German Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald in his magnificent Isenheim altarpiece. This symphony is rightly one of Hindemith’s best-known works. Yet the related opera, Mathis der Maler – for me, his greatest work – is rarely done. 

Hindemith arranged Nusch-Nuschi-Tänze from an earlier opera, Das Nusch-Nuschi. But unlike Mathis der Maler, it’s no masterpiece. And the dance suite remains forgettable, despite Hindemith’s imaginative orchestrations and Alsop’s lively performance. 

Hindemith’s daring Sancta Susanna is the standout here. Alsop’s recording of this youthful one-act opera is so gripping, it belongs among the outstanding recordings of his works, along with Roxolana Roslak and Glenn Gould’s sublime Das Marienleben and Sviatoslav Richter’s wonder-filled Ludus Tonalis.    

The tension builds relentlessly – an organ pipe whistles, heavily scented lilac blossoms rustle, nightingales sing joyfully, a couple makes love right outside the church window, a giant spider leaps into Susanna’s hair. August Stramm’s expressionist libretto is truly shocking, especially when Susanna, finally unhinged, strips off her nun’s habit and embraces a sculpted image of Christ naked on the cross.

Ausrine Stundyte conveys the devastating impact of Susanna’s defiance with ravishing expressiveness, while Renée Morloc’s Klementia sets the stage for the horrific ending with harrowing dramatic power. This is opera at its most explosive – and delectable.

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