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Hindemith viola sonatas -
reviewed by

'... a committed and convincing performance throughout.'

Hindemith Viola Sonatas. Lawrence Power; Simon Crawford-Williams. © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

It has proved a happy coincidence that the two earliest of the three sonatas on this CD date from 1919 and 1922, as the front cover of the booklet can show a painting by Otto Mueller of two contemporary naked girls sitting by a pool in attitudes of pensive meditation. I can only suppose they are meant to be listening to Hindemith, for whom the one shows cool appreciation, while the other has a slightly embarrassed aversion. They admirably represent initial reception of early works by this phenomenally prolific composer.

Hindemith began the First World War as a violinist and ended it as a violist. By that time Lionel Tertis had been blazing in England a trail for the 'middle-fiddle' that inspired a galaxy of distinguished composers to write for the instrument, even persuading Elgar to sanction and approve somewhat later a viola version of his cello concerto. But it was Hindemith who gave the first performance of Walton's splendid concerto, a work Elgar thoroughly disliked when he heard it at a Three Choirs Festival.

Hindemith himself wrote works for viola and orchestra, but the prevailing impression of this chamber music is the textural cogency he devises from his strong linear counterpoint. Yet perhaps the finest piece on the CD is the transcription of the moving evocation of St Francis at prayer, taken from the 1938 Nobilissima visione ballet.

Listen -- Hindemith: Meditation from Nobilissima visione
(track 11, 0:00-1:19) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

Equally convincing is the spectral variation that emerges from the quiet dignity that starts the finale of the Third Sonata.

Listen -- Hindemith: Finale (1939 Sonata)
(track 4, 0:00-1:34) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

Still contemplative, and beautifully laid out for the instruments, is the start of the First Sonata.

Listen -- Hindemith: Fantasie: Ruhig (Sonata in F, Op 11 No 4)
(track 5, 0:01-0:53) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

By the time of the Second Sonata Hindemith had achieved a succès de scandale with three brief erotic operas. He atoned by refusing to publish the Second Sonata, which begins with a long piano solo, as if uncertain of its destiny. The finale begins in a towering rage, providing quite the angriest music on the CD. But the essentially lyrical nature of the viola gradually takes over.

Listen -- Hindemith: Finale (Sonata Op 25 No 4)
(track 10, 0:00-1:21) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

Lawrence Power and Simon Crawford-Phillips give a committed and convincing performance throughout.

Copyright © 21 June 2009 Robert Anderson,
Cairo, Egypt









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