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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for viola and piano, Op.11 No.4 (1919) [18:41]
Sonata for viola solo, Op.25 No.1 (1922) [14:10]
Sonata for viola solo, Op.11. No.5 (1919) [20:10]
Trauermusik, for viola and string orchestra (1936) [7:48]
Jitka Hosprová (viola)
Jitka Čechová (piano: Op.11 No.4): Prague Chamber Orchestra (Trauermusik)
rec. January 2014, Domovina Studio, Prague and February 2014, Martinů Hall, Academy of Music, Prague (Op.11 No.4)
SUPRAPHON SU4147-2 [61:21]

It’s too early to see whether this is the first in a complete recording of Hindemith’s viola works and there’s certainly no indication in the booklet that suggests it is. It may be that Czech violist Jitka Hosprová has selected the most appropriate works for her, balancing the two solo sonatas with the Op.11 No.4 viola and piano sonata and adding Trauermusik, for which she has enlisted the support of the Prague Chamber Orchestra. It stands alone very nicely, in any case.
 
She is now one of the foremost Czech violists, a formidable technician and tonalist with an impressive discography to her name. I’ve reviewed quite a few of her discs and enjoy the more exploratory side of her repertoire as much as the more standard repertoire. She proves resilient and lyrical in the Op.11 No.4 sonata of 1919, where a Supraphon stalwart, Jitka Čechová, is her partner. She remains refined, knowing better than to over-egg the Fantasie first movement, keeping tonal breadth in reserve for the peaks of a phrase. The pianist proves her mettle in the more sinewy interchanges of the theme and variations second movement – strong chordal playing – and in the variations in the finale too. Here the elfin writing is certainly not short-changed but there’s nothing overripe about the more energetic variations either. Hosprová strikes a good balance between lyric and assertive, and avoids the charge of too objective a view through subtle tonal variance.
 
She proves equally resourceful in the solo sonatas. She is rugged in the second movement of Op.25 No.1, and her aloof refinement works well in the succeeding slow movement, which doesn’t require too much gilding to make its point. The best-known movement is the fourth of the five where her tone takes on a deliberately razory edge, honouring Hindemith’s instruction that it should be taken at a ‘hellish tempo’ and that tonal beauty ‘is not important’. Appropriately it was dedicated to an earlier Czech violist, the composer’s friend Ladislav Černý, violist of the Zik, later the Prague Quartet. She also catches the angularity of the second movement of the earlier 1919 Op.11 No.5 solo sonata, as well as its drawn-out legato. She doesn’t flag in the relatively long finale, either, retaining a full range of tone colours throughout. She is quite forwardly balanced in Trauermusik but this is not to say that the Prague Chamber Orchestra isn’t perfectly audible, not least in the brief third section before the chorale. If only the BBC had recorded Hindemith and Boult performing the premiere over the radio in January 1936.
 
There are a number of complete recordings available of this repertoire, not least the deeply impressive collection from Tabea Zimmermann on Myrios MYR010 – the larger, ensemble-accompanied works on a single disc – and MYR011, containing the sonatas on two discs. Kim Kashkashian has released a survey of the solo and viola and piano sonatas with Robert Levin on ECM8333092 and elsewhere has recorded Trauermusik. However, Hosprová’s vividly recorded, usefully annotated, and excellently played disc will certainly appeal if you are only looking for a selection of Hindemith’s viola works.
 
Jonathan Woolf