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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Works for Saxophones

Sonate for Four Horns (1952)  [14:41]*
Trio for Piano, Viola, and Heckelphone or Tenor Saxophone, Op. 47 (1928)  [14:10]
Konzertstück for two Alto Saxophones (1933) [8:38]
Sonata for Alto Horn in E (or for French Horn or Alto Saxophone) and Piano (1943)  [10:16]
Des Kleinen Elektromusikers Lieblinge (1930) [11:25]*
Frankenstein's Monstre Repertoire (1938) [1:19]*
Wasserdichter und Vogelbauer  (from Minimax) for String Quartet (1923) [5:22]*
Alte Karbonaden  (from Minimax) for String Quartet (1923) [3:03]*
clair-obscur Saxophonquartett
(Jan Schulte-Bunert, Maika Krullmann, Christoph Enzel, Kathi Wagner)
Barbara Buntrock (viola)
Robert Kolinsky, Florian von Radowitz (pianos)
* arranged for saxophone quartet by Christoph Enzel.  First Recordings
rec. 2016, Haus des Rundfunks Berlin, Saal 111
WERGO WER73532 [69:15]

“I find the main advantage of this instrument to be the rich variety and beauty of its expressive possibilities. Sometimes low and calm; then passionate, dreaming, and melancholy; at times as gentle as the breath of an echo; other times like the vague, lamenting wail of wind in the trees”. This was the verdict of Hector Berlioz, no less, on the new saxophone family, the brainchild of the Belgium Adolphe Sax. Georges Bizet, Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss were no less impressed, as was Paul Hindemith, who initially began to incorporate the instrument into his theatre scores. In the mid-1920s he gave it a prominent role in his opera Cardillac, and later in Neues vom Tage (1929). In his chamber music he employed it just once in the 1933 Concert Piece for Two Alto Saxophones. Ten years later it was sanctioned for use in the Sonata as an alternative to the alto horn. In 1928 he proposed the tenor saxophone as a substitute for the heckelphone in his Trio with piano and viola. Several of the other works have been arranged for saxophone ensemble, specially for this release, by Christoph Enzel.

Hindemith’s imaginative writing for the instrument makes its mark in the Sonata for Four Horns arrangement, which kicks off this fascinating programme. It’s the latest of the works, written in 1952. In three movements, the short opening fugato introduces the instruments one by one. In the lively middle movement, the interest lies in the varied rhythmic metres. Finally there’s a theme and variations, ingeniously constructed. The third variation is an intimate dialogue between all four instruments, with the fourth depicting a hunting scene. A lively coda ends the work.

The 1933 Konzertstück was a commission from the German saxophonist Sigurd Raschèr but had to wait until 1960 to be premiered by Raschèr and his daughter. It may only last 8½ minutes, but Hindemith packs a fair amount into it. It’s a virtuosically demanding work in two movements. Krullmann and Wagner perform it with consummate prowess. The composer’s adept contrapuntal skills are very much in evidence. I find the second movement particularly attractive; it begins with an intimate conversation, as if between two lovers, before branching out into a more animated section.

The alto sax is again in the spotlight in the 1943 Sonata. Hindemith was in exile in America at the time. This was one of a series of sonata projects, initially proposed to the publisher Willy Strecker in 1939. Ten wind sonatas survive. All show a profound understanding and fluency for the instruments. This work is linked to a poem, penned by Hindemith himself, and the ideas embodied in the text are eloquently expressed in the four movement score. The writing for the two instruments is dealt out in equal measure. The wistful musings of the third movement are exceptionally beguiling.

A pioneering spirit, so characteristic of the composer, is manifest in Des kleinen Elektromusikers Lieblinge (The Little Electric Musician’s Favorites). He was one of the encouraging forces behind Friedrich Trautwein’s monophonic electronic musical instrument, the Trautonium. His seven short pieces for three Trautoniums were premiered in Berlin in 1930 but were never published in his lifetime. Now they exist in versions for woodwind trio, string trio and three saxophones. This lyrical clutch of pieces show a wealth of compositional flair. Nos. III and V are upbeat and sunny, whilst I and V1 are a tad more restrained.

The three short arrangements that end the disc, two from ‘Minimax’, provide some contrasting lighter fare.

Exquisitely performed and warmly recorded, I cannot fault this new release in any way. For anyone who loves the saxophone, as I do, there’s much to relish in this enjoyable disc.

Stephen Greenbank



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