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Hyperion Records

CDA67769 - Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 2 – Sonatas for solo viola
Lightning across glass building by Lincoln Seligman (b1950)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: April 2009
Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2010
Total duration: 63 minutes 56 seconds

'Power's warmly rounded tone and searching interpretations cast the most favourable possible light on this wonderful if sometimes astringent music … though such fine players as Nobuko Imai and Kim Kashkashian have made important Hindemith discs, Power's series—soon to progress into a third and final volume with the works for viola and orchestra—is the most comprehensive and satisfying' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Power's performances—characterised by his trademark tonal richness and easy, almost nonchalant technical brilliance—leave no doubt about the weighty seriousness of the music, and its significance for Hindemith' (The Guardian)

'Aided and abetted by Hyperion's close, lifelike recording quality, Power gives an absolutely stunning demonstration of viola playing, with no concessions to Hindemith's daunting demands' (The Strad)

'Paul Hindemith, himself a major viola player, left one of the most important of 20th-century legacies for his own instrument, including the four solo sonatas recorded here. They make a protean collection … Op 25 No 1, written in 1922 when Hindemith was at his most radical, includes a movement marked 'Wild. Tonal beauty is of minor importance.' Lawrence Power easily encompasses the many moods. He has a giant sound at his command – he can make the instrument sound as if it’s being played by a man striding with seven league boots—and he makes every moment gripping' (The Irish Times)

'L'équilibre trouvé par l'altiste Lawrence Power … est tout simplement parfait. Paul Hindemith gagne beaucoup à être fréquenté par de tels talents' (Classica, France)

The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 2 – Sonatas for solo viola
Scherzo: Schnell  [2'55]
Breit Viertel  [1'46]
Sehr langsam  [5'40]
Lebhafte Halbe  [3'34]

Lawrence Power, Britain’s acknowledged greatest living viola player, continues his fascinating and acclaimed series of Hindemith’s complete viola music. This second disc features Hindemith’s solo viola sonatas. These works were all written for Hindemith himself to perform, and are thus are of special significance—as near to a personal testament, an intimate soliloquy, as exists in his multifarious and genre-spanning output.

The shadow of Bach lies over any composer writing a solo string sonata, and this is clear in the Passacaglia Op 11 No 5 Sonata, where Hindemith’s ultimate model is unmistakably the famous D minor Chaconne from Bach’s second violin partita—but viewed through a post-Brahmsian sense of sonority and architecture that produces a truly contemporary result. This ardent (and arduous) movement, a most impressive compositional feat, is the first example of a form which was to be one of Hindemith’s trademarks throughout his career, and it makes the Sonata something of a personal manifesto of artistic ambition. In later sonatas the severity of Hindemith’s mature style becomes evident—but harnessed, here, to the extraordinary virtuosity of the composer-performer, it gives rise to the most exhilarating and eloquent music.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Paul Hindemith was a versatile instrumentalist. He once claimed he could play any of the wind, brass, string, percussion or keyboard parts in the varied ensembles of his Op 36 Kammermusik concertos. At the age of nineteen, already leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra, he had publicly performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, and seemed destined to be a violinist. But the viola was his great love; in the 1920s he became internationally renowned as a virtuoso of the instrument—both as violist of the Amar String Quartet and as a concert soloist. (He gave the premiere of William Walton’s Viola Concerto, for example.) He probably wrote more solo repertoire for the viola than for any other instrument, and his works for his instrument are probably more numerous and significant than any other twentieth-century composer’s. In addition to a full-scale concerto (Der Schwanendreher), two other concerto-like works (the fifth Kammermusik and the second Konzertmusik), and the Trauermusik for viola and strings, he composed no fewer than seven sonatas, either for viola and piano (these are recorded on Hyperion CDA67721) or for viola unaccompanied.

Hindemith wrote all these works for his own performance. Thus the four unaccompanied sonatas, which appeared over a period of nearly twenty years, are of special significance—as near to a personal testament, an intimate soliloquy, as exists in his multifarious and genre-spanning output. The unaccompanied string sonata is one of the most demanding instrumental forms: the player must project not just a single melody line, but create (or at least imply) self-sufficient harmony and counterpoint on the separate strings. The solo string sonata, as a genre, had in fact virtually fallen out of use since the Baroque era, in which the peerless masterpieces in this form are J S Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for violin and Suites for cello. Just to attempt the solo sonata genre gave a Bachian cast to Hindemith’s musical thought.

But by Hindemith’s time the viola had long been the Cinderella of the strings, seldom used as a soloist throughout the Classical and Romantic eras apart from eccentric exceptions such as Berlioz’s Harold in Italy. Hindemith’s championship of it as player and composer was part of a wider movement at the start of the twentieth century to enlarge the viola repertoire, paralleling the work of the virtuoso interpreter Lionel Tertis in Great Britain. It is also worth noting that Hindemith was among the first players to champion the unaccompanied Mystery Sonatas of Heinrich Biber, which pre-date those of Bach. But there is no doubt that, in his first attempts at the genre of unaccompanied sonata, Hindemith was thinking of the example of Max Reger, a palpable stylistic influence on some of his early music. It was Reger who, at the end of his life, in the first years of World War I, pioneered the adaptation of Bachian string-instrumental style to the expanded harmonic language of the early twentieth century. Reger’s vast Op 131 collection, which includes his second set of Preludes and Fugues for solo violin, three Suites for solo cello (recorded on Hyperion CDA67581/2) and, significantly, three Suites for solo viola, appeared in 1915, just four years before Hindemith produced his first sonata for solo viola in 1919. It is surely no coincidence that the first known performance of any of Reger’s cello suites was given in 1916 by Maurits Frank, who was the teacher of Hindemith’s cellist brother, Rudolf: in fact, Hindemith wrote his early Cello Concerto in E flat major Op 3 for Frank that same year.

His first Sonata for unaccompanied viola Op 11 No 5 is the fifth of the five stringed-instrument sonatas which Hindemith began in 1918 while still serving in the German army on the Western Front, completed after his return home to Frankfurt in early 1919 and published together as his Opus 11. At that time it was an almost unheard-of gesture to group together so many works as subdivisions of a single opus, and it indicated Hindemith’s desire to put away Romantic attitudes, such as the idea that every composition was a complete and utterly separate work of art. Admittedly Brahms and Reger had sometimes published chamber works in pairs or threes, but by encompassing such a large number of fair-sized works Hindemith was going back to the examples of Haydn or even Handel, providing a collection from which performers might choose. He was quick off the mark in giving the first performance of the sister sonata (Op 11 No 4) for viola and piano, but he did not premiere the solo sonata, Op 11 No 5—perhaps inevitably the most taxing of them all—until 14 November 1920, in a recital in Friedburg, though it was sketched by 21 July 1919.

Op 11 No 5 reflects something of the influences which were still helping Hindemith to shape his personal identity in music. Brahms, Reger and César Franck are hinted at in the ‘lively but not hurried’ (Lebhaft, aber nicht geeilt) first movement; there is a tincture of Debussy (beloved by Hindemith’s commanding officer at the front) in the rhapsodic slow movement. Hindemith instructed his new publishers, Schotts Söhne of Mainz, to set this movement’s central section in smaller type, as a kind of evanescent parenthesis. The succeeding scherzo, too, has a touch of Impressionist fantasy, reminding us of the ‘moonstruck Pierrot’ depicted in Debussy’s 1914 Cello Sonata. These three movements are all quite short, but the finale is a massive variation movement headed ‘In the Form and Tempo of a Passacaglia’ (In Form und Zeitmass einer Passacaglia). Hindemith’s ultimate model is unmistakably the famous D minor Chaconne from Bach’s Violin Partita BWV1004, but viewed through a post-Brahmsian sense of sonority and architecture that produces a truly contemporary result. This ardent (and arduous) movement, a most impressive compositional feat, is the first example of a form which was to be one of Hindemith’s trademarks throughout his career, and it makes the Sonata something of a personal manifesto of artistic ambition.

Hindemith presented his next Sonata for unaccompanied viola Op 25 No 1 at a concert in Cologne on 18 March 1922. Since 1919 he had leapt to prominence as Germany’s leading young composer, passed swiftly through a stage as an Expressionist enfant terrible and emerged—with his Kammermusik series—as the leader of a neo-Baroque tendency, busily neoclassical, less concerned with beauty and eloquence than the efficient and vigorous presentation of pure musical ideas: the so-called ‘New Objectivity’ (Neue Sachlichkeit). This tendency is immediately apparent in Op 25 No 1, which opens with an introductory movement that juxtaposes an aggressive chordal sequence against material of a more pleading character and quickly passes into a ‘very fresh and taut’ (Sehr frisch und straff) quicker movement. Aesthetic relief is afforded by the two fairly substantial, and musically related, lyrical slow movements—especially the moving and elegiac one with which the sonata closes. But between them comes the fourth movement, a furious outburst that carries the extraordinary marking ‘Raging tempo. Wild. Beauty of tone is of a secondary consideration’ (Rasendes Zeitmass. Wild. Tonschönheit ist Nebensache). From the initial hornet buzz of a repeated low C, this movement consists entirely of single crochets played at breakneck speed but organized according to constantly changing time-signatures: a machine-age scherzo indeed.

One year further on, Hindemith’s Sonata for unaccompanied viola Op 31 No 4, composed during 1923 but not performed until the following year, confirmed the severity of his new style, but already presages greater freedom. The first of the three movements is a remarkable test of virtuosity in the manner of a vigorous moto perpetuo, with flashes of wit and pounding, obsessive folk dance rhythms. The slow movement, headed ‘Lied’, is song-like: a gracious and intricate lyric interlude. Like Op 11 No 5, this sonata ends with a massive finale, lasting longer than the other movements combined. Here it is a set of variations on a rather rustic, even quasi-medieval theme propounded at the outset. The sequence of variations is divided into three large spans, at first increasingly virtuosic, then slow and inwardly expressive, and finally working up to an earnest and grandiloquent conclusion. Hindemith gave the premiere of this sonata in Donaueschingen on 18 May 1924.

By April 1937, when Hindemith wrote his final Sonata for unaccompanied viola, he was virtually exiled from Germany by the Nazis and living the life of an itinerant composer-performer, though he had not quite taken the final decision to leave Germany for good: that would happen the following year. The sonata was dashed down on a train journey from New York to Chicago, and finished on 21 April, the day he premiered it at the Chicago Arts Club. By now his language had become more warmly emotional, even romantic again, and in contrast to the chromaticism of the two preceding sonatas there is an emphasis on bright intervals, notably the perfect fourth and fifth.

Despite the anxious times in which it was composed, this sonata is in fact the most direct and lyrical of the series, and its three movements (with central hints of a fourth and fifth) provide the most balanced formal design. Nevertheless a virtuosity rooted in Hindemith’s profound knowledge of the instrument is everywhere apparent, as in the alternately pugnacious and tender opening movement. In the central movement, meditative and deeply philosophical polyphony encloses a vigorous scherzo section which flows into a capricious episode of strumming pizzicato, a complete contrast in sonority and texture before the slow music returns. The finale, in moderate tempo, contrasts serious and formally grave music, almost like impassioned oratory, with a quieter, more reflective central episode. The music rises to a peak of eloquence just before the laconic close.

Malcolm MacDonald © 2010

Other albums in this series
'Hindemith: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67977)
Hindemith: Piano Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67977  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis & other orchestral works' (CDA68006)
Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis & other orchestral works
Buy by post £10.50 CDA68006  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Hindemith: Violin Sonatas' (CDA68014)
Hindemith: Violin Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA68014  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 1 – Viola Sonatas' (CDA67721)
Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 1 – Viola Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67721 
'Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 3 – Music for viola and orchestra' (CDA67774)
Hindemith: The Complete Viola Music, Vol. 3 – Music for viola and orchestra
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67774 
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