This disc collects Hindemith’s three viola sonatas with piano accompaniment, and it also includes a transcription for viola and piano of one of the dances from Hindemith’s ballet, Nobilissima Visione. The sequencing is odd: it starts with the final one, then goes to the first, then to the second, then back to the late ‘30s for the ballet transcription. Anyway…
The 1939 sonata is exactly the kind of thing I like, and reminds me that, when Hindemith wanted to, he could be both radical and traditional at the same time. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about this music, but the work is aggressive, for lack of a better word, with an absolutely bonkers piano part. It’s a great work that manages to sound both forward thinking and reasonably romantic at the same time.
The first sonata is a pretty radical late romantic (early modernist?) composition that manages to sound, at least to my ears, more conventional than it is. This appears to be Hindemith’s gift. The piece starts off sedately but comes alive soon after and features what almost sounds like sparring between the piano and the viola. Excellent stuff. (The finale is particularly great.)
The second sonata starts out on a markedly different note than the first, almost challenging the listener to continue, as its intro is abrasive and deliberately difficult (and there is no viola for nearly 1 minute!). This is music that confronts you with its daringness (its avant-garde-ness) and puts it right in your face. It’s something that, I guess, would be hard for many people to like. But I love it. Though I have heard few viola sonatas in my life, this has to be among my favourites. Even in its softer moments, it’s confounding.
The transcription from the ballet is a nice little add-on, I guess, but is hardly essential.
On the whole, this is an excellent collection of some of the great viola music of the 20th century. The more I listen to Hindemith’s chamber music, the more I like him. I can’t say the same for his orchestral music, but, fortunately for me, there’s none of that here.
Really great stuff.