WEISGALL Piano Sonata HINDEMITH Ludus Tonalis
Hindemith’s 1942 contrapuntal tour de force Ludus tonalis turns up less frequently on disc than certain other large-scale piano epics. While the work equals Bach’s Goldberg or Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in terms of intellectual chic, its box-office appeal remains specialised at best. Admittedly, it’s not easy for performers to elevate the fugues beyond their seemingly doctrinaire surface, or to enliven the interludes without sounding as if they are trying too hard to do so.
There’s no disputing Martin Perry’s solid musicianship and scrupulous technical preparation. The pianist’s thoughtful phrasing and overall sensitivity serve lyrical movements particularly well. For example, his tender and songful handling of the F major Fuga tertia’s rising intervals and rhythmic syncopations make one wonder if Hindemith had heard any of Copland’s 1930s ballet scores. In the 19th Interludium, Perry’s slow and resolutely steady pacing is a model of concentration and makes its expressive points purely through gradations in dynamics and touch.
Conversely, the march-inspired D major Fuga octava and 13th Interludium, while not quite so animated as they could be, convey appropriate force and swagger. Yet given Perry’s feathery, offhand delivery of the scherzando B flat Fuga nona, the seventh Interludium, also marked Scherzando, seems surprisingly matter-of-fact; likewise the pianist’s low-energy Secunda and Quarta Fugues and third Interludium. Although Perry avoids Olli Mustonen’s occasional flamboyance and exaggerations in the opening and closing movements (the latter replicates the former in retrograde), the sweeping arpeggios lack the easy flow heard in most other recorded versions.
The disc opens with Hugo Weisgall’s charmless, pedantic and utterly anonymous 1982 Piano Sonata. The work may not be strictly 12-tone in structure, yet it qualifies as a ‘serial killer’. Perry’s committed pianism presents Weisgall’s skilful and rigorous manipulation of materials in the most listenable light possible, while annotator Allan Kozinn’s booklet essay accurately describes how the three movements unfold. If you’re curious about Weisgall, his vocal music is infinitely more vibrant, communicative and emotionally committed.
On the whole, Perry’s Ludus tonalis mirrors the integrity and sobriety of John McCabe’s Hyperion traversal. For me, Mustonen’s characterful vivacity rules the roost, although some may prefer Ivo Janssen’s comparable yet less quirky conception (out of print on CD, available via download). Käbi Laretei’s incomparable 1965 Philips interpretation has yet to appear on CD, but that’s another story.