Hindemith: String Quartets No. 0, Op. 2, 3, Op. 22, 4, Op. 32, & 5 in E flat; Overture to The Flying Dutchman; Militärminimax

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COMPOSERS: Hindemith
LABELS: Praga
WORKS: String Quartets No. 0, Op. 2, 3, Op. 22, 4, Op. 32, & 5 in E flat; Overture to The Flying Dutchman; Militärminimax
PERFORMER: Kocian Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: PR 250 093/94 ADD
The numbering of Hindemith’s string quartets, a tidy 1-6 in his lifetime, is confused by the revival of the early Op. 2 Quartet, which won him the Mendelssohn Prize in 1915 but which he never thought worth publishing. Now some catalogues term this No. 1, bumping up the rest to 2-7. Others call it No. 0 (as here) and preserve the old numbering; but one must check dates and, where they apply, keys and opus numbers, to identify what individual recordings offer.

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‘No. 0’ seems the sensible appellation for a talented but garrulous work. Despite some emergent individuality, especially in the later movements, it’s more intent on showing off the young composer’s familiarity with the 19th-century quartet tradition from Mendelssohn to Reger. The Kocian makes far more of it (possibly more than it’s worth) than the Sonare Quartet on CPO. More remarkably, its account of the forceful, highly inventive No. 4 stands up well against the Juilliard Quartet on Wergo (where it’s called ‘No. 5’). Its impassioned performances of No. 3 (like No. 4 a cardinal document of Hindemith’s Kammermusik years) and the more expressive E flat Quartet of 1943 are equally fine, all recorded in a bright, pungent acoustic. The remaining items display Hindemith the humourist: the Wagner skit is aimed at collectors of dreadful intonation, but the military band parodies make a divertingly silly serenade. Calum MacDonald