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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Violin Concerto (1939) [25:33]
Quartet, for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano (1938) [25:50]
Cello Sonata (1948) [22:33]
Henry Merckel (violin)
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Lamoureux/Roger Désormière
Guy Deplus (clarinet), Robert Gendre (violin), Roger Albin (cello), Nadine Desouches (piano)
Enrico Mainardi (cello), Fritz Lehmann (piano)
rec. 28 December 1948, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris (Concerto), 23 February 1953, Paris radio broadcast (Quartet), 20 November 1950, Hamburg radio broadcast (Sonata)

Centre-stage in this all-Hindemith release is the classic 1948 recording of the Violin Concerto with Henri Merckel as soloist and the Lamoureux Orchestra conducted by Roger Désormière. Merckel (1897-1969) was a fine example of the Franco-Belgian School of violin playing, with beauty of tone and elegant refinement. For three decades, he led several French orchestras, but also had a parallel career as a soloist, notching up a reasonable-sized eclectic discography along the way.

Hindemith had already travelled to the States when the Concerto, composed in 1939, was premiered in Amsterdam in 1940, with Ferdinand Helmann as soloist and Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Willem Mengelberg. The concerto has had several outings on record. The most famous may be David Oistrakh’s account, which has the advantage of being conducted by the composer himself. Versions by Isaac Stern and Frank Peter Zimmermann are also high on my list of favorites. Yet, like much of the composer’s music, it has taken a bit of a backseat in the repertoire, which is a pity, as there is much to savour. There is plenty of melodic inventiveness in the opener, yet it is the expansive slow movement which is the emotional heart of the work. The violin’s lyrical soliloquizing is deeply moving. An animated finale with a substantial cadenza ends the work in upbeat fashion. Merckel’s sensuous tone and poetic insights cast a fascinating spell. The recording has been previously released on the Dutton label, but I do not know how Michael Dutton’s transfer compares with this one.

The Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano was written a year before the Concerto. (Olivier Messiaen had used this combination of instruments in his Quatuor pour la fin du temps.) It is a fairly substantial work, and I must confess that this is the first time I have heard it. Vigorous and vital movements frame an exquisite Sehr langsam, which is elegiac and melancholic in tone. Its intensity builds up as it progresses. This broadcast performance has a rewarding sense of purpose. I am pleased to have made acquaintance with it.

Enrico Mainardi and Fritz Lehmann’s performance of the Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948) is a radio broadcast from Hamburg. I found the work a much harder nut to crack than the others on the disc. It suffers from relentlessly unmemorable themes – a feature of much of Hindemith’s music – especially in the first movement. The final Passacaglia are more involving; the sparring elements offer some excitement. But the players are imaginative and resourceful in a reading that does not lose sight of the rhetoric.

Bearing in mind that these are historic recordings, one made in a studio and two radio broadcasts, they sound reasonably good. The Concerto with Merckel would not be my benchmark, however. That continues to reside with Oistrakh’s traversal.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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