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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Septet for flute; oboe; clarinet; bass clarinet; bassoon; horn and trumpet (1948) [15:16]
Quintet for clarinet and string quartet, Op. 30 (original version 1923) [17:36]
Octet for clarinet; horn; bassoon; violin; 2 violas; cello and double bass (1957/58) [25:52]
Ensemble Villa Musica
rec. 1992, Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, Germany. DDD
originally released, 1993, MDG L 3447, deleted 2002

MDG maintain their advocacy in the field of twentieth century chamber music with a reissued volume of chamber works from the prolific German composer Paul Hindemith. Although I have a number of Hindemith discs in my collection, mainly orchestral works, the Kammermusik and the String Quartet No. 4 (1921), these three scores were new to me.
The opening work is the 1948 Wind Septet cast in five movements and scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, horn and trumpet. The jaunty opening movement borders on the rumbustious but has dark undertones. It is followed by a generally calm and relaxing Intermezzo. The playful variations of the central movement were evocative of browsing a gallery of L.S. Lowry industrial landscapes populated with matchstick figures. Hindemith is down to serious business in the weighty and determined second Intermezzo. From 0:45 the mood noticeably lightens but suggestions of tension remain. Designed as a triple Fugue the finale returns to the untroubled mood of the opening movement.      
MDG has chosen to include Hindemith’s original 1923 account of the five movement Clarinet Quintet, Op. 30 rather than his later 1955 version. The opening movement from 0:00-1:01 initially gave me the impression of a Scottish reel. This is fresh-sounding music with a strong open-air feel. The extended second movement is languid and rather mournful. Noticeable are the striking passages for solo clarinet and also for the cello. The music evolves to convey a strong sense of introspection. The central movement is brisk, energetic and rhythmic. At 0:38-0:41 we hear what sounds like a short Mahlerian motif. There are several other motifs of high intensity which maintain a state of uncertainty. A central episode of relative calm at 2:41-5:50 soon disappears. The Arioso is especially sparse with a bleak, solitary quality. Vigorous and frantic writing in the final movement contain snappy humour of a chattering and fragmentary nature.      
Composed in 1957/58 the final score here is the Octet for Wind and Strings scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, two violas, cello and double-bass. The work is in five movements with the finale divided into four sections. The Octet opens with an arid and bleak movement of an almost astringent quality. Hindemith develops the music in weight and intensity. The variations of the second movement provide music of concision with a strong propulsion bordering on the obsessive. The central movement is bleak and desolate, evocative at times of a frozen, tundra. Hindemith tentatively develops the music with the bright and fresh quality of a spring morning. I enjoyed the bustling and vital Scherzo with its beguiling personality. The finale is divided into four sections: a fugue and three traditional dances: waltz; polka and gallop. Despite the labelling, I experienced only a restrained impression rather than the true spirit of the dance. Hindemith presents a motto theme that is heard relentlessly throughout the movement in various guises.    
Based in Mainz, Germany, Ensemble Villa Musica were formed in 1990 not long before this recording was made. Over the years they have gained an outstanding reputation. On the evidence of their more recent releases they have maintained impeccable standards of ensemble. In these fastidiously structured Hindemith chamber scores I experienced their highly accomplished playing as intellectually and technically precise. The players have skilfully managed to wrap the sound-world of Hindemith’s individual and often demanding harmonic palette around themselves.
For this reissue the label have provided redesigned packaging. I am unsure if the informative booklet notes are the same as those originally provided. The MDG engineers have secured crystal clear and well balanced sound quality.
Those wishing to investigate the lesser encountered music of Hindemith should be both stimulated and entertained by this fascinating disc. 
Michael Cookson 


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