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CD Review

Paul Hindemith

Chamber Works for Clarinet

  • Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello & Piano (1938)
  • Sonata for Clarinet & Piano (1939)
  • Three Easy Pieces for Cello & Piano (1938)
  • Quintet for Clarinet, 2 Violins, Viola & Cello (1955)
Spectrum Concerts Berlin
Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer, clarinet
Annette von Hehn & Elizabeth Glass, violins
Hartmut Rohde, viola
Frank Dodge, cello
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano
Naxos 8.572213
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Paul Hindemith's chamber music is always interesting – or so it seems. Apart from the string quartets, his works in the chamber genre have had a reasonable amount of exposure, too. Here, we get three out of four works involving clarinet, the odd-man-out being the Three Easy (or Light) Pieces for Cello.

The opening work is the Quartet, and it may be the most substantial piece here. At nearly 28 minutes, it's certainly the longest. The heroic first movement is followed by a darker, more intense second panel and a finale mixing light with dark and angry music. I suppose you could say Hindemith's trademark here and in most works on this disc is his tendency to write rather short-breathed melodies, which in the faster movements often seem to have energetic bursts carrying a key melodic germ, yielding what in popular music would be called a hook – a sort of catchy key melodic phrase. He also turns on the contrapuntal activity quite thickly at times. One instrument often echoes what another has just played, or thematic tidbits pop up here and there in the main or secondary lines, and always in a masterly way.

Try the Clarinet Sonata to witness these features and how deftly Hindemith weaves his interplay between the instruments. The sonata is a fine, solidly-wrought four-movement work, but surpassed I think by the opening and closing pieces. The Quintet, which closes the disc, is comprised of five movements, with the brief first having quite a catchy, energetic theme. The second movement is dark, while the third is sassy and sarcastic, the fourth mysterious and the finale reprising music from the opening panel. It's all well crafted, as is the Three Easy Pieces for Cello and Piano, a slight but worthwhile collection of tasty morsels.

The performances are uniformly spirited and brilliantly performed throughout. Clarinetist van den Oudenweijer plays splendidly, imparting much color and virtuosity to Hindemith's busy landscapes. The string players and pianist must also be credited with fine work, both individually and collectively. The Naxos sound reproduction is excellent. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2009, Robert Cummings