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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 8 (1914-16) [23:25]
A frog he went a-courting – Variations on an Old English Nursery Song (1941) [5:15]
Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 25, No. 3 (1922) [9:27]
Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948) [23:05]
Sébastien Hurtaud (cello), Pamela Hurtado (piano)
rec. 2013, Concert Hall, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth.
NAXOS 8.573172 [61:28]

I think it’s generally fair to say that Hindemith is a composer who is more admired than loved. From the little I’ve heard there is the impression of very competent but perhaps not very exciting music. You will appreciate that I’m trying hard not to come out with the clichés of “dry” and a shade “dull”. On the other hand he was a notable string player in his own right, being viola player in the Amar-Hindemith Quartet so that was encouraging when approaching this CD especially with two young performers.
Three Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op. 8 took me by considerable surprise. Firstly how much I enjoyed it and secondly why had I never heard it before. There is a real sense of gusto in the short first piece and the two instruments interplay very effectively. The second, the considerably longer Phantasiestück, brought some recollection of pieces by Brahms and Schumann. That is unsurprising in view of the fact that Hindemith was only around twenty when he wrote these pieces. The Scherzo is the most intricate and has real emotional bite and tenderness in equal measures. Whether the fact that this was written in the middle of the Great War has any significance, I do not know. All in all this is a very impressive work and, bearing in mind it was new to me, it seems to have been finely played by the duo.
A frog he went a-courting would make an excellent and unusual encore piece as well as a good topic for ‘Guess the Composer’. It is lively and conveys the nursery rhyme well and with some humour, especially at the end.

The recital now takes on a much more serious tone with Sonata for Cello, Op. 25, No. 3. This commences with two short movements which seem disturbing before a central Langsam that plunges into the depths of despair. Things pick up in the next movement but the overall mood is one of foreboding. Is it with the benefit of hindsight to suggest a connection between this atmosphere and what was to follow in Germany.
The Sonata for Cello and Piano comes as some relief after the last piece, impressive as it is. Pastorale is an apt title for a first movement that whilst showing considerable development from the first sonata written forty years earlier, illustrates the composer’s strengths and ability to write for this combination. The second movement, described as a hybrid of intermezzo and scherzo, has changes of tempo and mood throughout its six minutes. Ever tuneful, Hindemith seems to be very well aware of the colour of the two instruments and suffuses the music with a sense of regret. The Passacaglia finale commences imposingly, firstly on the cello then at greater length on the piano before developing with some considerable intensity. This must be difficult to perform and as throughout this recital Hurtaud and Hurtado are first class.

This disc has been an eye-opener in terms of how much pleasure I have obtained from it; the sound quality likewise. Whilst I expected to hear music of quality I did not anticipate the intensity and personality that comes from these works. This modestly priced recital will help introduce Hindemith to listeners hitherto unaware of this high-class music.
David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Lucy Jeffrey



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