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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for Althorn and Piano (1943) [11:39]
Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948) [21:32]
Sonata for Trombone and Piano (1941) [11:11]
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1935) [11:31]
Sonata for Trumpet and Piano (1939) [16:12]
Teunis van der Zwart (alt horn); Alexander Rudin (cello); Gérard Costes (trombone); Isabelle Faust (violin); Jeroen Berwaerts (trumpet); Alexander Melnikov (piano)
rec. September-December 2013, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC905271 [71:09]

Hindemith’s tally of over thirty sonatas proves a fertile portfolio for programmatic reasons in this disc. Its selective approach is admirable, in that it centres on those works written in and after 1935 – the year he was accused of spreading musical Bolshevism. By the following year his music was expunged from concert performance in Germany. This disc, then, charts what may be termed the ‘second wave’ of sonata compositions, after those composed in his early creative period up to the mid-1920s, and takes him to his American exile.

The still centre – often not so still – of this programme is Alexander Melnikov, the pianist who anchors every sonata with his astute, technically precise playing. If, in relation to Hindemith sonata programmes, your mind turns to a very different kind of controlling pianistic genius – Glenn Gould – you should be aware that their approaches could not be more diametrically opposed. Melnikov and Co are lithe, taut, tight and dramatic, where Gould and his eminent cohorts take a very much more leisurely, sometimes recumbent approach.

The Sonata for althorn – called the alto horn in America, or tenor horn in Britain - is played with decisive ebullience and focus by Teunis van der Zwart where the tempo and articulation in the slow movement in particular offers a wholly different perspective to that older Gould recording with Mason Jones. Hindemith’s own programmatic poem is recited and the text is given in the booklet. The Cello Sonata is another work of exile, conceived in 1948 for Piatigorsky. It’s played by Alexander Rudin, a noted exponent of the works of Myaskovsky and he meets its concertante elements head-on, characterising strongly. Here Melnikov’s stalking piano figures and gaunt bass prompts help immensely in creating a rounded performance in a work where thematic independence is prominently to be encountered.

Both the trumpet and the trombone sonatas are in the most capable of embouchures. Gérard Costes manoeuvres far more adroitly in the Trombone sonata than Henry Charles Smith with Gould, fine player though Smith was. Costes’ registral command is impressive, and gets a fine punchy pesante tone in the third movement Lied. Meanwhile trumpeter Jeroen Berwaerts plays with a focused core sound, proves witty in the second movement and powerfully expressive in the Trauermusik, remaining consoling to the end. This is the sole example of similar kinds of tempi being taken by Melnikov and Gould’s colleagues. The Violin Sonata takes us back to the beginning of this particular sequence. Composed in 1935 it’s played by Isabelle Faust who varies her tone between refined and gutsy as the mood dictates. She is conspicuously successful here and forms a splendid duo with the ever-watchful Melnikov.

All the recordings were made in the same studio – Teldex in Berlin - between September and December 2013. The booklet notes are concise and helpful.

There are some front-ranking performances here in a programme that makes chronological and artistic sense.

Jonathan Woolf