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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for Violin & Piano in E flat Major, Op. 11 No. 1 (1918) [9:26]
Sonata for Violin & Piano in D Major, Op. 11 No. 2 (1918) [19:40]
Sonata for Viola d’amore, “Kleine Sonate” Op. 25, No. 2 (1922) [12:50]
Sonata for Violin & Piano in E Major (1935) [9:57]
Trauermusik (1936, arr. violin and piano) [7:07]
Meditation, from the ballet “Nobilissima Visione” (1938, arr. violin and piano) [3:58]
Sonata for Violin & Piano in C Major (1939) [14:04]
Roman Mints (violin, viola d’Amore)
Alexander Kobrin (piano)
rec. 2017, Academy of Choral Art, Moscow, Russia
QUARTZ QTZ2132 [77:13]

After recent disappointments, it is with great pleasure that I write about this disc of Hindemith’s music for violin and piano, as the production values are far superior to other recent Hindemith discs I’ve reviewed. Not only do we get the four sonatas for violin and piano but also two short pieces transcribed for violin and piano plus the Kleine Sonata for Viola d’Amore and Piano whereby Roman Mints demonstrates he is equally adept on the violin as on the viola d’Amore.

The booklet begins with a short introduction in which he tells of his childhood in the Soviet Union and how, when he was learning his craft, he would learn any piece that his mother could find the sheet music for. He also explains how Hindemith’s Sonata in D was his introduction to modern music and how this piece has fashioned his development as a musician and as an individual. His playing is very good with moments of brilliance, especially in the D Major Sonata. However, through his display on this disc, Mints also shows that he has a real feel for Hindemith and his music. His performance of all the pieces recorded here is very strong and committed, with Alexander Kobrin offering an equally impassioned display in this excellent partnership.

The music is delivered chronologically with twenty-one years between the first and the last sonatas. These works form part of Hindemith’s sonata project when he composed works for many solo instruments, all of which I have in Ensemble Villa Musica’s excellent recordings for MDG. The present disc opens with the two sonatas opus 11. From the opening declamation of the E flat Major Sonata we hear the 23 year old composer announcing himself with a flourish. Here Kobrin takes the lead before Mints enters and the music becomes more varied and even tender in parts. This is a good indication of the understanding of the partnership, one that lives up to this early promise. Their playing of the D Major Sonata is equally compelling, as you might expect after the introductory note in the booklet, especially in the song-like central slow movement where their playing is quite beautiful.

What comes next is a divergence from the violin with Mints playing the viola d’amore in the Kleine Sonate, showing he is equally adept on this instrument as on the violin. This concise three movement Sonata shows a greater degree of originality than the two Op. 11 sonatas, with Hindemith’s expressive writing almost announcing his shift from the more traditional form of the previous works to his more mature and modern style. It opens with a short, almost mock baroque fugue, before the second movement (the longest of the three) offers a more tender and lyrical slow component. This is a feature of the composer’s later music; Mints and Kobrin exploit this to the full. In the final movement, the notes tell us that Hindemith “upset its first audiences”, due to its more modern feel, the composer’s polytonality and the mocking character of the music.

The Sonata in E Major has recently become one of my favourites due to the 2015 Harmonia Mundi (HMC 905271) recording, played by Alexander Melnikov and Isabelle Faust. He is the pianist throughout this program of the composer’s varied sonatas and she demonstrates what an excellent interpreter of Hindemith’s music she is – so much so that I hope she goes on to record all of his sonatas for violin. The Sonata in E Major was composed as a diversion from his work on the opera Mathis, der Maler. Hindemith described it as “easy and very pretty”, something that belies the tension, which lies behind this neoclassical work, and the pressure he was under from the Nazi regime to fit in with their cultural ideals. The opening movement, Ruhig Bewegt, lives up to its discription as ‘Quietly moving’. Here, I think that Faust just has the edge over Mints, her playing getting to the emotional heart a little more, but this is still an insightful performance from Mints.

Then come the two arrangements: Trauermusik and the Meditation from Nobilissima Visione. I must say I still prefer the original concepts for both works. I think the viola, the intended instrument, adds that little extra gravitas, something that is especially evident in the Trauermusik, famously composed in memory of King George V. Nevertheless, it is very nice to have these arrangements for violin and piano, especially given Mints’s and Kobrin’s fine performances.

The final work on this recording is the Sonata in C Major from 1939. Like the first of the sonatas featured on this disc, it opens with a flourish, with a toccata-like movement taking its impetus out of the opening phrase. The second movement is a combination between a slow opening section and the more animated scherzo section. Once again it is the slow movement, in this case the third, which is the most striking. The music lasts as long as the previous two movements combined and is based on a wonderful triple fugue, summing up well the power and emotion of Hindemith’s writing in these works.

This is a wonderful disc and one that I would have no hesitation in recommending to anyone looking for a recording of the four sonatas for violin and piano. Roman Mints and Alexander Kobrin are committed in their accounts and produce engaging performances that are the equal of the musicians of Ensemble Villa Musica on the Dabringhaus und Grimm recordings. Here Mints and Kobrin benefit from all the violin sonatas being on the same disc. I do, however, enjoy Faust and Melnikov a little more in the E Major Sonata. Having said that the performance in the present disc is also very good. The recorded sound is exemplary and the booklet notes also excellent.

Stuart Sillitoe

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