Unaffected yet deeply affecting, Norman Lebrecht finds much to delight him in this collection of Hindemith's viola music.
Label: NAIVE (Indigo)Rating*****
Once the very model of a modern German composer, Paul Hindemith has fallen so far out of fashion that the 50th anniversary of his death last month went almost unnoticed. Born in 1895, Hindemith emerged from the First World War as a writer of distinctive contemporary music that rejected abrasive atonality.
Much of his work was designed for domestic use, written simply enough for families to play at home. Banned by the Nazis, Hindemith migrated to the US and Switzerland, composing all the while. The vastness of his output can deter exploration.
So the place to start is Hindemith’s own instrument, the viola, on which he was a sought-after virtuoso. He wrote three concertos for himself to play, the most powerful being Der Schwanendreher (The swan-turner), a 1935 meditation on the German folk songs he left behind when forced into exile. Lyrical and mildly lamentational, it makes the most of the consolatory qualities of the viola’s deeper voice. Antoine Tamestit plays it here with just the right balance of pity and restraint, accompanied by Paavo Järvi and the composer’s hometown orchestra in Frankfurt.
The other works here are in exactly the same way unaffected and affecting – two viola sonatas and the funereal (though unmournful) Trauermusik. I haven’t heard Hindemith played with such empathy since Claudio Abbado’s Berlin recordings of the 1990s. This is so close to a five-star album that … oh, go on, give it a spin.
Artists: Antoine Tamestit (viola), Markus Hadulla (piano), Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi