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Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, February 2010

Is there still the resistance to the music of Paul Hindemith that here was some 25 years ago? It seems that there’s quite a bit of his huge output now available on CD. This includes the composer’s own recordings as conductor and violist. These must be selling for they are kept in the catalogue. It is certainly our loss that we seldom hear his music in concert—much as I love the Mathis der Maler Symphony and the Symphonic Metamorphoses on themes of Carl Maria von Weber, what would I give to hear the magnificent Symphonic Dances, the String Quartet, op.32 (now known as No.5), or any of the songs or piano works? Disks like this make me wonder why this music isn’t played in concert. It cannot be because it’s difficult to listen to—it certainly isn’t. It’s not devoid of humour, despite what Hindemith’s detractors will tell you. There’s always humour in his work, it’s just not of the belly laugh type and you sometimes have to look for it. Many of his Marsch movements are a laugh-a-minute.

So with my colours firmly nailed to Hindemith’s mast let’s have a look at this recital. It’s very interesting because of the inclusion of the Quartet and Quintet. The former has been recorded a few times, and each of them has been a fine performance, well worth hearing. This recording is another fine exposition of the music. The three movements are well balanced with a deeply-felt slow movement and a raucous finale, the second half of which is one of Hindemith’s jaunty cock–a–snook marches. This is a delightful work. The Quintet is a tougher nut because it comes from Hindemith’s avant-garde period of the 1920s. Its relative neglect is because it wasn’t published at the time of composition. The odd numbered movements are aggressive and dynamic—this is really quite expressionistic stuff, huge declamations and large gestures. The even numbered movements are quite the opposite, the second being a relaxed discussion; it could almost, at times, pass for the first movement of Shostakovich’s 8th Quartet. It does however have a loneliness about it, a distancing of the music from the listener. The fourth movement is named Arioso and it’s another distanced piece, dispassionate and cold. This is a very varied work, and a most uncomfortable one, yet it works as a composition. While it makes for a disturbing listen it is a very satisfying one at the same time. This is the find of this disk and it’s worth the price for this alone.

Although written in the same year as the delectable Flute Sonata, the Clarinet Sonata doesn’t share that work’s joyousness or humour. Perhaps Hindemith thought that the clarinet was a more thoughtful instrument to write for than the somewhat frivolous flute. I wonder. Whilst it’s somewhat po–faced this Sonata still has much to offer the listener. Hindemith exploits the whole range of the instrument and there’s fine interplay between clarinet and piano. After a rather serious first movement Hindemith delights with one of his marches, very funny indeed. The players give it straight making it all the more comical. The Three Easy Pieces for cello and piano are totally unpretentious and much more than teaching pieces, or pieces specifically for students. They are rich and inventive morsels which can stand the big interpretation they receive here.

Naxos is to be thanked for this slightly unusual issue—the Quintet is such a rarity—and the performances are excellent. Everything about this issue is exemplary. I loved every minute and it shows us yet another side of this multi-faceted and multi-talented composer. The recording is fine and has some space around the performers and Habakuk Traber’s notes are good. For me, essential listening.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2009

Paul Hindemith’s chamber music seems to have been imperceptibly slipping from the international repertoire in recent years, making this outstanding disc doubly welcome. In the musical and politically turbulent first half of the 20th century, he passed through many prevailing fashions, the late 1930s finding him honing a readily acceptable musical personality in the Clarinet Sonata and Clarinet Quartet. Lasting little short of half an hour, the latter work is scored for clarinet, violin, cello and piano and mixes long flowing melodic passages with unusual rhythmic patterns to provide an immediate attraction. It is not easy to perform, the conclusion requiring a whirlwind of notes, though the main problem comes in achieving a just balance in the thick textural writing. By contrast the sonata for clarinet and piano is in four short movements, much of it song-like as the instrument’s tonal colours are explored. It’s spiky little scherzo is particularly attractive, and a happy little Rondo makes a brilliant conclusion. Though carrying the much later date of 1955, the origins of the Quintet—for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello—come from an unpublished score of 1923 reworked in later life. In five short movements it does require work from the listener, its influences derived from atonality, and it is only with the pungency of the third movement that the work becomes easily likeable. The release is completed by Three Easy Pieces for Cello and Piano, a particular favourite of mine, and here very well played by Frank Dodge, the founder of the Spectrum Concerts Berlin. Regarded as one of the leading contemporary music groups, their performances are admirable, Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer the nimble clarinettist who casts aside the many demands. Good sound from German Radio.

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