Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
String Quartet no.2 in F minor, op.10 (1918) [33:13]*
String Quartet no.3 in C, op.16 (1920) [31:26]
Amar Quartet (Anna Brunner (violin); Igor Keller (violin); Hannes Bärtschi (viola); Péter Somodari (cello))
rec. Grosser Saal, Radiostudio Zurich, Switzerland, February 2009 and *April 2010. DDD
NAXOS 8.572163 [64:39] 

Eighty-one years after the Amar Quartet gave the first performance of Paul Hindemith's String Quartet in C, op.16, up they pop again, as youthful as ever, to kick off a new Naxos edition of the complete Quartets. In fact Hindemith's original ensemble was dissolved in 1929, whereas this Zurich-based Amar Quartet was formed in homage to Hindemith by Swiss violinist Anna Brunner in 1987!
For reasons to do with his complicated, portentous and perhaps not always cohesive theoretical writings on music and society, and his strong dislike of the 1950s avant-garde, Hindemith's music has not always had an easy time of it from critics, and quartets have played their part in the neglect of his music, leaving relatively few recordings available to date. Yet Hindemith's String Quartets are among his most instantly accessible music, even in the Third, with which he firmed up his credentials among contemporaries as a modernist. The two works in this first volume follow in the tradition of Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms: well proportioned, basically tonal with tuneful dissonance and growing chromaticism.
Incredibly, Hindemith wrote his Second Quartet in 1918 as a soldier on the battlefields of the First World War. Though he kept a diary in which he described the horrors he experienced, there is barely a hint of gloom in what is in fact a very attractive work of considerable inspiration and aspiration - truly a form of escapism. The C major follow-up is ironically more austere, but the dazzling, Janáček-like finale is nothing of the kind. Hindemith's part-writing is unremittingly inventive, almost breathtaking in its scope and intricacy. Even the Third remains quite approachable, and a good starting-point from which to explore his impending, slightly weird but eminently fascinating 'Neue Sachlichkeit' ('New Objectivity') period.
The Amar Quartet give an excellent account of these works - it is hard to believe Hindemith's old team could have done it better. All four members face and pass many technically challenging passages, and succeed also in imbuing Hindemith's not always outwardly expressive works with a good deal of warmth and intensity. Twenty-five years on, co-founder Anna Brunner is somehow still only forty years old!
Sound quality is very good throughout. The Third is more closely miked, making performer inhalations a little more audible. The notes by German musicologist Giselher Schubert give a well written, detailed account of the music, although the opening sentence is baloney: "Paul Hindemith was the first composer of string quartets since Spohr (1784-1859) who was also an outstanding violinist and viola player". Respighi, Ysaÿe and Lalo had evidently slipped his mind, among others.
If this first disc is anything to go by, this will be a must-have cycle for all lovers of 20th century music.
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The first disc in what is likely to be a must-have cycle for all lovers of 20th century music.