Eschenbach Conducts Hindemith, Vol. 2

ODE1357-2 cover

HINDEMITH: Kammermusik IV-VII / Stephen Waarts, vln; Timothy Ridout, Ziyu Shen, vla; Christian Schmitt, org; Kronberg Academy Soloists; Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orch.; Christoph Eschenbach, cond / Ondine ODE 1357-2

Following up on his release earlier this year of Vol. 1 of Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik, conductor Christoph Eschenbach here presents Vol. 2. Here he is joined by a quartet of outstanding soloists, violinist Stephen Waarts, violists Timothy Ridout and Ziyu Shen, and virtuoso organist Christian Schmitt.

As in Vol. 1, Eschenbach presents a lively style that, although it does not smooth over the abrasive harmony that Hindemith put into his music here and there, certainly makes things lively. Violinist Waarts shines in Kammermusik IV, a piece that also features lively clarinets though it does tend to sound like a violin concerto. Not surprisingly, the brief notes I encountered online indicate that these are indeed concerti, No. IV for violin, No. V for viola, No. VI for viola d’amore (played by Ziyu Shen) and No. VII for organ. Towards the end of the second movement, “Sehr lebhaft,” Waarts plays a surprisingly lyrical and lovely solo, but, typically of Hindemith, the orchestra jumps right back in to its lively pace to close out the movement. The third movement, “Nachtstück,” also has its nice lyrical moments and again showcases the violinist in lyrical phrases whose mellifluous quality is mitigated to some extent by the shifting harmony. At 4:42, the solo violin is joined by a solo clarinetist playing a countermelody. The last movement, surprisingly enough, opens with a bold trumpet solo stating the terse theme, which is then thrown to the flutes and clarinets before the intrepid violin enters the picture and picks it up for development, in which he is joined by a lively timpanist.

The first movement of Kammermusik V is a moto perpetuo for the viola soloist against an orchestral backdrop of basses playing a continuo part and “punchy” interjections by the brass, winds and middle strings. The bitonal harmony never uses the root note of any chord, thus the harmony is kept up in the air. There is a tendency towards the key of Db minor in the second movement, however, and again Hindemith has created a lovely but bitonal arietta for the soloist, cushioned by rich basses and celli. The third movement is a quirky, tonally unsettled scherzo in 3/4 time, with low winds and strings galumphing along behind the solo viola while flutes and clarinets twitter up above. The last movement is a very whimsical “military march,” the kind of thing you might expect to hear when playing with toy soldiers, with lively wind trills and the viola playing mostly in chords against the bitonal background. Suddenly, at the end, the tempo slows down and the march poops out.

Oddly, considering the viola d’amore’s origins as a Baroque instrument, Kammermusik VI is the most modern piece so far, almost Stravinskian in its sparse, wind-oriented orchestration and stiffish rhythms. Here, the soloist plays edgy bowed figures much like Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat against the shifting backdrop of winds and brass. The first movement slows down and has a sudden decrescendo at the end, which leads into the moody, quirky slow movement, far less conventionally melodic than its two predecessors. The last movement is a set of variations which starts with the soloist playing alone until just before the one minute mark, when a clarinet enters, later followed by basses and high winds, but not much else. The strangely sparse orchestration continues for some time, with the other instruments playing counter-figures against the viola; at one point, the listener is fooled into thinking that a fugue is about to start, but it’s quickly abandoned and the background figures become sparser and stranger. Every so often, the celli try to liven things up and establish a set tempo, but it keeps falling back to the solo viola with those strange wind and low string figures playing around it. Suddenly, at 4:30, after a pause, a fairly lively 4/4 is set up by the bassoon and we go on our jolly way towards the finish. A very weird movement!

Kammermusik VII, the one for organ, picks up where No. VI left off, with a jaunty, whimsical bitonal tune, and when the organ enters it, too, is playing fairly lively figures—but this movement, too, ends quietly. The second movement begins with moody ruminations by the soloist, and again when other instruments enter the scoring is sparse and they play against one another with contrasting figures. Eventually a sort of slow canon is set up with the soloist still ruminating as they toodle their way along. The third-movement scherzo wakes the listener up with a trumpet fanfare at the outset, followed by jocular winds bounding around against each other before the soloist returns to have his say.

These are, again, wonderful pieces, superbly played by Eschenbach and company. Well worth checking out!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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