MIRACULOUS METAMORPHOSES - Kansas City Symphony - Michael Stern (Conductor) - 030911113223 - Released: March 2014 - Reference Recordings RR-132

1} Paul Hindemith - Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber
2} Sergei Prokofiev - The Love for Three Oranges (Suite)
3} Béla Bartók - The Miraculous Mandarin (Suite)

Rarely have I heard the multiple and varied orchestral colours of Paul Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber exposed and exhibited as well as they are in this new recording by the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Michael Stern. And that is not because of a lack of recordings of this work, a long list of which includes some of the best orchestras led by giants of the podium like Bernstein, Abbado, Kubelik and Szell. It's just that in this particular case, it seems that every single player in the orchestra really 'gets' into the music. And this piece is great for that because it could almost be perceived as a kind of "concerto for orchestra" in the way it highlights different groups of the orchestra throughout its four movements. Multiple thumbs-up and praise must be awarded to the brass section musicians in particular, as they constantly have to conduct some fancy technical manoeuvres around some of the music's thornier moments. They shine in the second movement Scherzo jazzy ŕ la Bernstein segment, and along with the strings, give their all during the final movement's March, a few minutes of music that will bring a smile to your face. (With music this good, I've never understood why Paul Hindemith has often been perceived as one of the underdogs of 20th century music).

And the same can be said of the other works on this CD. The whole orchestra breathes warmth and beauty of expression in the Prince and the Princess segment of the Prokofiev and wallow in the bizarre and mysterious atmosphere of the Miraculous Mandarin. Conductor Michael Stern well captures the essence behind each work. And as far as the recording is concerned, this time I think Reference Recordings have surpassed themselves (if that's possible). Even within the most congested segments, one can hear some fine details otherwise obscured, and when dynamic bursts of power are called for, you can feel the air move. This is the orchestra's first recording made in their new home, Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. When I listen to a new CD prior to reviewing it, I not only listen to it on a good sound system, but also bring it along with me to work (90 minute drive) and listen to it in the car. I swear that during the final minutes of the March from the Hindemith, some of the orchestral punches are so powerful and realistic, that people following me must have wondered why the doors on my car would bulge once in a while.

Jean-Yves Duperron - April 2014