Italian Musicians Play Hindemith

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HINDEMITH: Flute Sonata. Oboe Sonata. Bassoon Sonata. Clarinet Sonata. French Horn Sonata. Trumpet Sonata. English Horn Sonata. Trombone Sonata. Alto Saxophone Sonata. Tuba Sonata. Echo for Flute & Piano / Claudia Giottoli, fl; Simone Frondini, ob; Luca Franceschelli, bsn; Simone Simonelli, cl; Maria Chiara Braccalenti, E-hn; Gabriele Falcioni, Fr-hn; Vincenzo Pierotti, tpt; Gabriele Marchetti, tb; David Brutti, a-sax; Gianluca Grosso, tuba; Jana Theresa Hildebrandt, spkr; Filippo Farinelli, pno / Brilliant Classics 95755

A sign of the times: a half-century ago, you’d almost never catch Italian chamber musicians playing Paul Hindemith, but here are almost a dozen of them (plus a German speaker who participates in the alto saxophone sonata) and they do a wonderful job. For once, Hindemith’s music sounds rhythmically livelier than usual, with what you might call an Italian accent in the rhythm, and the wind and brass soloists all sound lively and involved in the music.

I already owned the brass instrument sonatas, plus the sonata for four horns and piano not included here, on a Summit recording that is also quite fine, but these performances are their equal. As for the wind instrument sonatas, I admit that this is my first hearing of them but if the high quality of the brass sonatas is any indication they’re probably competitive with the best recordings out there.

There are some listeners out there, including some quite experienced ones, who have little patience for Hindemith’s music. They find his tonal clashes abrasive and many of his melody lines ugly. But of course, some of them have their own agendas to pursue, and I freely admit that Hindemith is not for everyone. Nonetheless, what often sounded abrasive and uncomfortable 30 or 40 years ago can now sound positively lyrical next to some of the abrasive bullshit music being written, performed and recorded today. Kaja Saariaho is just one name I can pull up off the top of my head whose music says nothing to me and in addition sounds consistently ugly .

But as I said above, the liveliness of these musicians’ performances sometimes give the music an extra rhythmic kick that Germans often lack. The third-movement “Marsch” in the Flute Sonata is but one example; here, Claudia Giottoli plays it with sparkle and élan, and on top of that her accompanist, Filippo Farinelli, gives it a jauntiness that you seldom hear from German pianists.

And it isn’t just Giottoli who plays this way; even Simone Frondini sounds alive and engaged in the oboe sonata, and it’s been my experience that oboists have a hard time sounding lively on their instrument. But to be honest, I didn’t find this particular sonata all that interesting musically; to me, it sounded pretty formulaic, as if Hindemith had written it on autopilot. The bassoon sonata, alas, has very little zip to it, but the bassoon is an even more lugubrious instrument than the oboe so I feel sorry for Hindemith for having tackled such a difficult project. Certainly, the second movement of this piece is among Hindemith’s most lyrical creations. And wait until you hear the wonderful life and energy in their performance of perhaps the best-known piece on this CD, the horn sonata.

The sonatas for trumpet, trombone and more unusual instrument such as the tuba, English horn and alto saxophone (I wonder what prompted that one?) are equally well played although, as I say, Hindemith’s approach to writing each of these was quite similar. Taken one at a time, they are delightful and fascinating, but absorbing them one after another can produce a feeling of déjà vu in the listener. Nonetheless, I found the trombone sonata different from most of its predecessors, particularly the first movement written at a very fast tempo and including some tricky syncopations for the piano accompanist. There’s a spoken introduction to the last movement of the alto sax sonata, untranslated in the booklet, that I haven’t a clue what it means.

The tuba sonata is also quite different, but then again, this was the last of these pieces that he wrote (1955), and by that time Hindemith’s style had become a bit more abstract and less linear. I’m sure that some listeners will find this the least palatable of these sonatas, but I found it quite interesting because it was so different, and yet valid. Even in his least accessible works, Hindemith always maintained a strong sense of structure in his writing, and this in itself holds one’s interest along with the strange interaction between the tuba, which in the first movement plays some extremely odd and difficult figures, and the piano which almost acts more as a commentator than an accompanist.

I really enjoyed this CD, even in its strangest moments. All of the musicians involved play with such energy that you never get bored.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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