HINDEMITH Viola Sonatas
Most viola players separate Hindemith’s sonatas with piano on disc from the unaccompanied works. Even Kim Kashkashian, whose ECM twofer contained all seven, segregated the accompanied works on disc 2. Tabea Zimmermann plays them in chronological-numerical sequence, with pairs of solo sonatas divided by Op 25 No 4 with piano (1923; which closes disc 1), the whole framed by the most immediately appealing of them all, the accompanied Op 11 No 4 (1919), with its Romantic, almost Brahmsian opening ‘Fantaisie’, and (the pinnacle of the set, perhaps) the C major from 1939. What a fascinating listen they make.
Hearing the seven as a sequence – Hindemith did not compose them as such – adds a dimension to the music missing in Imai’s and Power’s sets, and squandered by ECM. In each work, Zimmermann has a quality of – well, ‘rightness’ is the only word I can use for it – that seems wholly at one with Hindemith’s idiom, that no other player quite manages. The only equivalent that comes to mind is Paul Lewis’s Beethoven sonatas, in which one almost hears the composer himself performing. With Zimmermann, she might just exceed Hindemith in execution.
Where does that place Zimmermann against her rivals? One can discount quickly Jürgen Weber, Enrique Santiago and Paul Cortese, generally too warm in tone without the edginess fundamental to this music. Zimmermann’s tone is full but not over-rich, as if she herself had grown out of the instrument rather than learnt to play it. Her rendition with Thomas Hoppe of Op 11 No 4 is simply the best yet and that of the C major is on a par with Walter Trampler’s wonderful RCA account (long deleted). The virtuoso distinctions between her, Imai and Power are negligible in truth, but her conception of the works in the round ultimately compels appreciation. With superb sound from Myrios, I must – reluctantly, out of respect for Imai and Power – recommend this new set as quite simply the best.