Paul Hindemith’s Wind Sonatas

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HINDEMITH: Sonatas for Flute & Piano; English Horn & Piano; Bassoon & Piano; Oboe & Piano; Clarinet & Piano. Essay for Flute & Piano / Alexa Still, fl; Robert Walters, oboe/E-hn; Richard Hawkins, cl; George Shakakeeny, bsn; James Howsmon, pno / Oberlin Music OC18-02

Perspective is a funny thing. During his lifetime, Paul Hindemith’s music was considered, with a few exceptions (Das Marienleben and the Mathis der Maler Symphony) to be arid and unpalatable, but in recent decades it is omnipresent…and listeners seem to like it. Why? Because it never was arid and unpalatable, just not “lovely” in a purely tonal-Romantic sense, and compared to what came after him, it now sounds downright melodic despite its constantly-shifting harmonic base.

These sonatas are a perfect case in point. In the new era where composers have pretty much returned to some sort of tonality, these Hindemith works sound surprisingly contemporary. They could easily have been written by a good modern composer, and in fact they probably have been to some extent by the academic copycats (of which there are, alas, several). Moreover, Hindemith, who was a brilliant instrumentalist in his own right (he was a virtuoso violist who could also play piano and clarinet), would often brag that he could play any instrument in the orchestra with a little practice. He thus understood the capabilities, ranges and limitations of every instrument he wrote for, which makes these sonatas sound “right” for their respective instruments. The lively, dancing “Marsch” in the flute sonata is but one example among many of Hindemith in a surprisingly light mood, and is utterly delightful.

Surprisingly, the English horn sonata is also rather jolly in temperament, despite the fact that the instrument has a much narrower range of expression than the flute. The bassoon and clarinet sonatas also follow similar patterns and moods.

Indeed, if I have any criticism of the music, it is that it has a similar feel from sonata to sonata, but of course Hindemith never intended all of these sonatas to be presented back-to-back like this. Still, the performances are consistently good, and taken one at a time the sonatas, though rather light in nature, are pleasing and entertaining.

A good album, then, if lacking somewhat in variety.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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