Hindemith Solo Viola Sonatas
Although spread unevenly through his career (1919, 1922, 1923 and 1937 respectively) Hindemith’s solo viola sonatas chart his progress from late Romanticism through his iconoclastic and neo-classical stages culminating in the mature style of the final sonata – written on a train to Chicago for Hindemith to premiere that night (in honour of which I drafted this review on the Piccadilly Line to Ruislip).
The benchmarks in these works were set by Kashkashian and Imai in turn (Cortese’s finely played accounts were just too polished). Lawrence Power’s stand comparison, his prodigious technical ability – ideally suited to this repertoire – allied to real musicianship in pieces which, for all their complexities, should sound grateful to play and hear. His shaping of Op 11 No 5’s passacaglia finale is particularly impressive. Power relishes the lyricism of the slow movements as much as the demands of the faster ones, yet is not fazed at all by Op 25 No 1’s notorious fourth movement, marked “Raging tempo. Wild. Beauty of tone is of secondary importance”, with its outrageous metronome marking of crotchet=600.
Power has the edge in Op 25 No 1, young man’s music if ever there was any, even over Kashkashian. In the 1937 Sonata Imai remains first choice but in Op 11 No 5 and Op 31 No 4 honours are even. Power’s firm line and clear tone, aided by Hyperion’s superb recording, are splendid, overtaking Kashkashian on ECM. Imai’s warmer, slightly fuller tone pays dividends in the slow movements and her playing has plenty of fire and passion. If pressed, Imai remains first choice but Power does not disappoint. Excellent notes by Calum MacDonald, too.