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Paul HINDEMITH (1895 – 1963)
Viola Sonata Op.11 No.4 (1919)a
Viola Sonata Op.25 No.1 (1922)
Michaël LEVINAS (born 1949)

Les Lettres enlacées II (2000)
Les Lettres enlacées IV (2000)b
Gérard Caussé (viola); Michaël Lévinas (piano)a; Quatuor Ludwigb
Recorded: Espace de projection de l’IRCAM, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, February 2002 (Lévinas) and January 2003 (Hindemith)
AEON AECD 0312 [59:50]

Michaël Lévinas is probably better-known as a brilliant pianist and untiring champion of new music; but he is also a very distinguished composer whose music has already been well served by two earlier Aeon releases entirely devoted to it. In 2000, he composed a group of works sharing the same title Les Lettres enlacées ("Intertwined Letters") which refers "to a style of writing based on two melody lines that overlap, pile up, cross over and finally return to a more or less parallel position" (the composer’s words).

Thus, Les Lettres enlacées II for solo viola opens with a slow introduction out of which a broad melody "in a canon of micro-intervals on two strings" emerges, goes on spiralling, with varied restatements of earlier material. When reaching its conclusion, the music spirals back to silence, this time, in stratospheric harmonics.

 

Les Lettres enlacées IV for string quintet (two violas) is roughly conceived along the same lines, thus as an infinite spiral of some sort. Curiously enough (and significantly enough, I think) the whole work, however, is more homophonic than its companion for solo viola. Both works are superbly written for strings, and are readily accessible and communicative, each in its own way. I did not know any of Lévinas’ music before reviewing this fine disc; but if the rest of it is of the same level as the two pieces heard here, I would certainly like to hear more.

At first, the pairing of recent works with two early sonatas by Hindemith might seem a bit far-fetched. Ultimately, however, one easily comes to the conclusion that Lévinas’ Les Lettres enlacées II could not have been written without Hindemith’s own exploration of the many possibilities of his own instrument. The quite early Viola Sonata Op.11 No.4 was composed after the composer’s release from the army after the 1918 armistice, and is thus one of the earliest works in which he still acknowledges some indebtedness to tradition although the music already displays several Hindemith hallmarks. It is in three movements (Phantasie, Thema mit Variationen and Finale mit Variationen) that should be played attaca, thus emphasis the global conception of the work. The Finale must thus be experienced as the continuation of the second movement while the short Fantasy clearly serves as an introduction to what is essentially a set of variations on a simple, folk-like theme.

The Viola Sonata Op.25 No.1 for solo viola is a more mature and more personal achievement displaying Hindemith’s formal command and instrumental mastery. It is in five movements, of which the third and fifth ones (both slow) are – significantly enough – the weightiest in terms of musical substance. The short fourth movement is a devilish Scherzo to be played with rough, wild energy. The composer even mentions that the beauty of tone is secondary; but rest assured, there is nothing ‘ugly’ either in the music or in Caussé’s superb playing.

This thought-provoking release deserves the highest praises for the quality of the music, the immaculate performances and the high production standards. Gérard Caussé is a wonderful musician whose technical skills and musicality always pay high dividends. He is superbly partnered by Lévinas in Hindemith’s early sonata whereas the quintet gets as fine a reading from Caussé and the Quatuor Ludwig as possible.

Hubert Culot



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