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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonatas for Viola and Piano
Sonata Op. 11 No. 4 (1919) [17:24]
Kleine Sonata for Viola d’Amore and Piano Op. 25 No. 2 (1922) [13:38]
Sonata Op. 25 No. 4 (1922) [14:27]
Sonata (1939) [25:25]
Meditation from Nobilissima visione (1939) [3:49]
Luca Sanzò (viola, viola d’amore); Mauritzio Paciariello (piano)
rec. 26-28 July 2013, Chiesa di S. Terenziano, Capranica, Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94782 [75:02]

Despite opinions to the contrary, the viola was not Paul Hindemith’s first instrument of choice. Whilst he preferred playing the piano and even the clarinet, it was with the violin that he first made his name. He became leader of the Frankfurt Opera Company in 1917 and played second violin in the Rebner String Quartet at the same time. In 1921 he co-founded the Amar String Quartet, which included his brother, Rudolph, as cellist. He himself became the quartet’s violist after no other suitable player could be found, so it could be said that he came to the instrument by accident. This notwithstanding, there is no doubting that he became the leading composer for the instrument in the twentieth century. His sonatas for solo viola and viola and piano are some of the most important music ever composed for the instrument.
 
This disc presents the sonatas for viola and piano in chronological order beginning with the (Sonata in F) Op. 11 No. 4, the fourth of a series of six instrumental sonatas. The first three and the sixth are for violin and piano, with the fifth sonata being for solo viola, after which he began to concentrate more on the viola. The sonata is in three movements which proceed without a break. It is rooted in German Romanticism especially Reger, although the influence of Debussy can also be felt. It was composed during February and March of 1919 and given its premiere the following spring with Hindemith himself playing the viola. It is a rich and incredibly mature work, beginning with a short Fantasie which acts as a form of introduction to the second movement Theme and Variations. The final movement Finale (with Variations) is linked to the music of the second movement through its series of variations.
 
The Kleine Sonata for Viola d’Amore and Piano is somewhat of an interloper on this disc as it is not usually included in recordings of his sonatas for viola and piano. It is all the more welcome on this present disc. This sonata, which was composed in May 1922, reflects Hindemith’s “new sport” of collecting and learning to play old instruments. He goes on to write that “I play viola d’amour, a quite splendid instrument that is no longer in use at all and for which there is only a very small literature. The most beautiful sound that you can imagine; an indescribable sweetness and softness. It is difficult to play, but I play it with great enthusiasm and to the joy of all hearers.” The sonata itself is a synthesis between the old and new styles, that is to say that there is music composed in a neo-baroque style juxtaposed with music that could only have been composed in the decade that followed the First World War. The resulting sonata is quite effective, especially in the interplay between the old and the new.
 
With the Sonata Op. 25 No. 4 we are getting to the real meat of this disc. It was composed between May and November of the same year as the Kleine Sonata and was for Hindemith to perform himself in his concerts. Again it is in three movements and stylistically follows on from the viola d’amore sonata in almost all respects. There is even a thematic link between the first movement of the Kleine Sonata and the final movement of this sonata. In this movement the viola almost competes with the piano at times in a percussive, yet tonal fashion. This gradually grows more agitated as the movement draws to its exciting conclusion.
 
The longest work on the disc is the Sonata (1939) for Viola and Piano, which is in F Major although this is not mentioned in its title. It is a large-scale work, almost concertante in style and structure. Here Hindemith’s mature style, in which he pays homage to the great German tradition, is clearly in evidence. It is unlike the other sonatas on this disc in that it is in four movements, with the composer describing the work as “… a strong, well-nourished piece with a durable inner lining for the cold weather. The second movement has a tricky rhythm that one first has to stalk with caution to get under one’s control. In the last movement [there are] two variations on what is already a full-size rondo movement …” This is a well conceived and executed tonal work - one that displays the full capabilities of the viola and of the performer. It's a real tour de force for the instrument and for any self-respecting violist.
 
The disc concludes with the charming miniature, Meditation, which Hindemith transcribed for viola and piano from his ballet Nobilissima visione. He often performed this as an encore at his concerts.
 
The more I play this disc the more it grows on me. At first I found the tempos adopted by Sanzò and Paciariello a little relaxed. They lack the excitement of Enrique Santiago, Ivo Bauer (viola d’amore) and Kalle Randalu on Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm, although you would have to invest in two discs to get all the works. Although still available those CDs have recently been deleted. Then again there's the beauty of the playing of Lawrence Power and Simon Crawford-Phillips on Hyperion. That excellent disc however does not offer the Kleine Sonata.
 
The present performance is strong and whereas it might not hit the heights achieved by some, at the price it is a real winner, especially as it also offers the sonata for viola d’amore. The recorded sound is well balanced and the booklet notes are informative - an attractive disc all-round.
 
Stuart Sillitoe