HINDEMITH: Viola Sonata, op. 11/4. Sonata for Solo Viola, op. 25/1. Viola
Sonata (1939). Capriccio for Cello and Piano, op. 8/1 (arr. Gandelsman).
Yuri Gandelsman (viola); Ralph Votapek (piano).
Blue Griffin BGR277 TT: 58:17.
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Apparently, Hindemith could play every standard orchestral instrument at least
passably. Known as a viola virtuoso, he created perhaps the most significant
body of Modern work for the instrument -- sonatas, concerti, and fugitive pieces
-- as well as revived the old viola d'amore. He wrote music for that as well.
This CD provides a retrospective of some of his chamber works.
The very early viola sonata (1919) shows the composer transitioning from late-Romantic
to Modern composer. It begins with a lovely, very Brahmsian singing idea -- developed,
however, in a Max-Regerish or Korngoldian way, both contrapuntally and harmonically.
Three movements flow without a break, giving the effect more of a fantasy. The
final two movements, variation sets, make heavy use of counterpoint, with the
finale ending in a fugue. However, the counterpoint differs from the kind one
encounters in Hindemith's mature work -- again, more Max Reger's melodic commentary
rather than Bach's rhythmic and structural intensity. Hindemith, however, creates
leaner textures than Reger
Truth to tell (and as a huge admirer of the composer), I find Hindemith's
solo string works awfully dry and sometimes even turgid. His brand of neo-classicism
I normally react well to tends to become in these pieces dead cold, mostly
case of the solo viola sonata here. One waits vainly for the clarity of Bach,
the readily-apprehensible structures of song and dance, as opposed to post-Wagnerian
fantasias. The score comes from 1922, a period of stylistic unsettledness
for the composer, as he moves around from a kind of Dada to Expressionism
to the early bases for his mature style. The Suite "1922" for piano,
with movements like "Shimmy," appeared as the next opus number.
For me, the sonata never gels, either as a whole and in terms of the individual
With the Sonata of 1939 (after he hit op. 50 with the 1930 Concert Music
for Brass and Strings, Hindemith gave up on opus numbers; he had over thirty
years of music to write and resorted to dates instead), we find ourselves
in the middle of Hindemith's composing maturity. The first movement, bold
handsome, moves mainly in broad notes, with faster duplets intensifying
the rhythm. The
next, a scherzo, plays rhythmic games obliterating and shifting the downbeat.
At one point, the viola and the piano follow different downbeats. Unlike
the cheap way of doing this, the rhythms co-ordinate. You seem to hear
instruments phasing. While not the most lyrical of Hindemith's slow movements,
(marked "Very slowly. Free") nevertheless suits the sonata, particularly
at that point. Traces of post-Wagnerian ideas linger in some of the phrases,
even at this late date. It functions not so much as a movement in its own
right, but as a transition to the finale, which it runs right into without
A theme with two variations, the last movement begins with a sense of balance,
with both viola and piano elements in clear equilibrium and mostly two planes
of contrapuntal activity. I confess that I can't follow the variations without
a score, mainly because I can't keep the theme in my head. For one thing
(it's both long, between 2 and 3 minutes) and complex, but that obscurity
doesn't matter. A master shaper of musical time, Hindemith gives me plenty
of other things to think about, including once again blurring the downbeat.
music every so often seems to become untethered, although it snaps quickly
back to the pulse. The first variation scurries about; the second bubbles
angry boogie-woogie and recalls the mood of parts of the opening movement.
Indeed, it can sound at times like variants of the first-movement ideas.
Hindemith composed the unapologetic bonbon Capriccio for cello in 1917 as part
of a set of three cello pieces. Gandelsman, who also studied cello, arranged
it for viola. It evokes the fun of country dance fiddling. Never having heard
the original, I can however say that it sounds perfectly idiomatic for the viola.
Hindemith, a believer in arrangement himself as a way to increase the use of
a good score, would have probably lifted a congratulatory schnapps to the violist.
I do think other violists better technicians than Gandelsman, who has a roughish
tone and who occasionally falls flat on individual notes, but very few who match
his deep musical intelligence. As much as I dislike the solo viola sonata, Gandelsman
shapes it best of any other performance I've heard. Few pianists match Ralph
Votapek in sheer musicality. His Hindemith has plenty of power but also plenty
of witty fantasy. Both Gandelsman and Votapek turn the all-too-frequent view
of Hindemith from pedantic composing machine to a poet.
S.G.S. (March 2014)