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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Drei Stücke op. 8 (1917) [25:00]
Variations on: A frog he went a-courting (1941) [5:15]
Bernhard HEIDEN (1910-2000)
Sonata (1958) [13:05]
Siena (1961) [8:07]
Walter SKOLNIK (b. 1943)
Sonata (2004) [13:30]
Four Bagatelles (1998) [7:09]
Cécile Grüebler (cello)
Tamara Chitadze (piano)
rec. 2018, Erholungshaus der BATER AG, Leverkusen, Germany
Reviewed in 3D binaural SACD stereo.

This interesting and unusual programme came about as the result of cellist Cécile Grüebler and pianist Tamara Chitadze’s encounter with composer Walter Skolnik. The ensuing conversations and music-making let to a ‘musical path’ that leads in a direct line from Paul Hindemith to his American-German student Bernhard Heiden, who in turn became Skolnik’s most important teacher. This line of musical descent is reflected in the chronology of this programme, and it works very well indeed.

Hindemith’s Drei Stücke op. 8 is a joyous early work that absorbs and reflects the spirit of a wide range of influences, notable among them being Brahms and Wagner, plus the late-late Romantic chromaticism of Schoenberg and other more contemporary trends. The surprisingly little-known A frog he went a-courting variations have the clear fingerprints of Hindemith’s mature style, but have a similarly sprightly mood.

Bernhard Heiden studied with Hindemith in Berlin from 1929-33, but as a Jew was timely in his emigration to America in 1935, becoming an influential teacher at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. The three-movement Sonata is dedicated to János Starker, and is an elegantly constructed piece with plenty of neo-classical poise, lyrical character and polyphonic textures that are in tune with, but are not imitative of those of Hindemith. Siena is recorded here for the first time. This a kind of extended sonata movement which contrasts exploratory and at times dramatic sections with enjoyable dance-like music with a character reminiscent of Bartók.

Walter Skolnik was born in New York and still lives and works there. His music has avoided the numerous trends he has witnessed over his long career, and his four-movement Sonata certainly stands in the craftsmanlike traditions of Hindemith and Heiden. This certainly likeable music with a tuneful lightness of touch that has immediacy of appeal, but with its occasional forays into baroque or other stylistic avenues it has a mildly eccentric feel. The Four Bagatelles are similarly intriguing in a mildly odd way, seeming to point in more than one way at once, but getting away with it through brevity and lively inventiveness.

I always enjoy Cybele’s SACD sound quality, and as a headphone user the 3D binaural effect can be rather special. This recording has less of a stereo spread than some I’ve heard from this source, the cello positioned in front of the piano and the sonic picture representing a fairly standard recital perspective in a pleasant but not overly resonant acoustic. Standard stereo works in a similar way, the picture somewhat reduced but still dynamic and vibrant. This is more a ‘musical’ than an artificially ‘hi-fi’ recording which you can enjoy for the quality of the works and the playing, all of which should grow on you very pleasantly indeed.

Dominy Clements

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