Hindemith: Clarinet Quartet; Two Duets for Clarinet and Violin; Clarinet Sonata

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COMPOSERS: Hindemith
WORKS: Clarinet Quartet; Two Duets for Clarinet and Violin; Clarinet Sonata
PERFORMER: Ensemble Incanto
It was once fashionable to decry Hindemith for having fulfilled a long-term ambition of composing sonatas for practically every orchestral instrument. To his detractors, these works, though providing soloists with much-needed 20th-century repertoire, represented the very worst manifestations of composition by conveyor belt. Yet listeners encountering any one of these three fine discs with fresh ears may wonder how such attitudes were ever sustained. Indeed, far from reflecting a mechanical approach to composition, the majority of works featured here offer triumphant demonstration of Hindemith’s continual ingenuity and inventiveness.


Probably the best starting point for sceptics is CPO’s marvellous compilation of works featuring the oboe family. Apart from the welcome opportunity of hearing the perky Oboe Sonata alongside its darker and more unconventional companion for cor anglais, the disc also features Die Serenaden, a delightful neo-Baroque chamber cantata composed as a wedding present for Hindemith’s wife, and the barnstorming Heckelphone Trio, written in 1928 in the hope of reviving interest in an instrument that sounds a bit like a baritone oboe. The CD of clarinet chamber works is almost as enticing in bringing to our attention the unaccountably neglected 1938 Quartet, composed for the same instrumental forces as Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Yet the playing here doesn’t quite achieve the sparkle and tonal variety of the oboe release, and it’s a pity that room wasn’t found for the Clarinet Quintet, one of Hindemith’s finest early chamber works.


If you prefer to explore Hindemith’s writing for string instruments, BIS’s new recording of the complete violin sonatas will offer rich musical rewards, not least in comparing the Romantic ardour of the two early works, much influenced by Reger, with the measured lyricism of the Sonata in E and the imposing grandeur of the Sonata in C. The performances are highly committed, conveying the spirit of the music with great imagination and insight. Erik Levi