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Guy Rickards
Gramophone, February 2010

A beautifully sung rendition of Hindemith’s early masterpiece

Das Marienleben is a masterpiece of the song-cycle genre, one of few 20th-century examples to rank with the greatest from the 19th…Isokoski and her recital partner of 22 years, Marita Viitasalo, like so many opt for Hindemith’s later version. They produce the most beautifully sung account I have heard in years, with perfect intonation throughout, something which has eluded many competitors, whether Meyer-Topsøe’s fine version or even Janowitz (Jecklin – nla), hitherto the most compelling account set down. Ondine’s superb sound is also the finest on offer, exquisitely balanced between voice and piano, with depth and just the right degree of resonance…Where it counts, Isokoski and her partner catch the essence of Hindemith’s music to near perfection: just listen to the final trilogy of “Vom Tode Mariäe” to hear the quality. Overall then, this newcomer is now the version to have…

David Hurwitz, January 2010

There have been too few recordings of this magnificent song cycle, so it doesn’t mean as much as it should to say that this is easily the finest of them. Hindemith recognized the importance of this music, and it haunted him throughout his life. The opening bars announcing the birth of Mary occur not only throughout the work (most notably in The Birth of Christ and On the Death of Mary III) but in many other pieces as well—such as the slow movement of the Cello Concerto and the Symphony in E-flat. They became Hindemith’s personal leitmotif. And then of course, there’s Rilke’s gorgeous poetry, lovely in the original German, and grotesque in R.G.L. Barrett’s 1923 translation (included in the booklet). I mean, when the last two words of The Birth of Christ—“Er erfreut” (“he rejoices”)—come out as “He gladdeneth”, then you know you’re in trouble.

Never mind. Soile Isokoski has the perfect voice for this music. Her silvery soprano and impeccable accuracy of pitch give Hindemith’s difficult vocal lines the lyrical intensity that he intended. Whether it’s the lightness of “The Annunciation to the Shepherds”, the darkly tragic “Pietà”, or the jubilant concluding poem, Isokoski captures every nuance of the text while at the same time retaining that special, slightly understated intimacy of expression that both the poetry and the music demand. Pianist Marita Viitasalo is very much an equal partner in the proceedings, projecting Hindemith’s often bare and potentially clunky writing (c.f. “On the Wedding at Cana”) with unflagging elegance and limpid tone. Sensual this music is not, but it often is very beautiful. Neither the performers nor Ondine’s perfectly clear, ideally balanced sonics ever let us lose sight of this fact. A great disc!

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