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The Long Christmas Dinner
American Symphony Orchestra/Leon Botstein
The passage of time is the subject of this lesser-known work by Paul Hindemith. It was his last opera, a thoughtful setting in English of Thornton Wilder’s play of the same name, which sees the Bayard family enjoying their Christmas feast over 90 years. New life is celebrated, old lives commemorated and mourned and the repercussions of decisions are played out over decades. The cast play characters from old and young generations, entering through one door and exiting through another when their time is up.
Hindemith’s score works with the cyclical nature of the libretto. Familiar melodies and phrases are uttered by younger characters, echoing the words of matriarchs and patriarchs from years past. The chamber orchestration is expressive yet tidy, never overpowering the soloists and providing a constant stream of accompaniment to the evolving feast. The melodies favour lyricism, rather than the angularity of Hindemith’s early neoclassicism. That said, he’s kept the emotional restraint, so the music never becomes sentimental.
With crystal clear diction, the performances by the various soloists are excellent. So too is the American Symphony Orchestra, under Leon Botstein’s secure direction. This is its first English recording, and it’s a fascinating find for lovers of 20th-century opera. Andrew Aronowicz
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ABC Classics 4811820 (3CD)
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Opera Rara ORC52 (3CD)
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Ondine ODE12542D (2CD)