HINDEMITH: Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra; Quintet for Clarinet & String Quartet; Sonata for Clarinet & Piano – Richard Stoltzman, clar./Tashi/ Yehudi Wyner, p./ Slovak Radio Sym. Orch. /Kirk Trevor – Navona

by | Mar 14, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

“Resolve ” = PAUL HINDEMITH: Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra; Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet; Sonata for Clarinet and Piano – Richard Stoltzman, clar./Tashi/ Yehudi Wyner, p./ Slovak Radio Sym. Orch. /Kirk Trevor – Navona Records NV5934 (1/07/14) [Distr. by Naxos], 63:24 ****: 

I am a fan of the music of Paul Hindemith. I have my favorites, of course, such as the expansive and nobel Mathis der Maler, but I have never heard any Hindemith I did not like. I also recognize that – as I have learned over the years – I might be in select company. (You are…Ed.)

Certainly there is little to no dissonance or ‘shock’ to be found in Hindemith’s music but, if there is a rap, it has been that many find his music, with its own unique harmonic systems and very deliberate and plotted contour, a bit pedantic; maybe even dull. For me; not so. If we take the Clarinet Concerto as an example, one reason it is not played nearly as often as one would like is the absence of traditional, ‘operatic’ melodies that a player can really bite into. For the player, there are elements of repetition or cells that occur that some may find tedious. It also has – for some – the same problem that the Milhaud Concerto has; there are few extended periods of rest. It progresses forward with nearly non-stop playing. I happen to like the piece and this performance by Stoltzman and the Slovak Radio Symphony is quite good indeed. Incidentally, this work (and the Milhaud and the Copland, etc.) is one of the many important twentieth century clarinet works written for or commissioned by the great Benny Goodman.

Hindemith, while a violist by trade, was a big fan of wind players and the music that could be written for them. He actually wrote many fine pieces that involve the clarinet, such as the Wind Quintet and the Kammermusiks, not to mention the three clarinet solo works heard here. The Quintet for Clarinet and Strings is actually the earliest work here, written in 1923 to the Sonata’s 1939 and the Concerto of 1947. Like a lot his music, it contains its finest moments, I think, in the weighty, moody slow movement and the light, marcato-inspired tone of the two sehr lebhaft sections that bookend the work. Here is another piece in the fairly large repertoire for this combination that does not get played often enough due to what some find its ‘serious’ tone and its moments of great difficulty. Certainly this is not “background” music to a dinner party, for example, but it is an important work played here wonderfully by Richard Stoltzman and his frequent partners, the quartet members of Tashi.

If there is a Hindemith clarinet work that is played very often it is the Sonata. This work is on the ‘must know’ list for all clarinetists, in part because it is a very fine way to introduce young players to ‘modern repertoire’ and some of the trademark Hindemith traits are displayed very nicely here, with its ponderous Sehr langsam and the sharply contrasted Rondo that close the work. It presents only modest challenges for the player and is a nice, fairly compact length too. Of the three clarinet works here, it is the Sonata that has been recorded many times and this one with Stoltzman makes for a very fine addition. His accompanist, Yehudi Wyner, is also a composer and has written some music, himself, for Stoltzman (much of it pretty difficult!)

I have also been a great admirer of Richard Stoltzman over the years for his fluid technique and very unique, but very beautiful tone quality. A word about the album title, Resolve:  This is, apparently, Richard’s ‘resolve’ to honor his late teacher, Keith Wilson, from Yale, who was also an acquaintance of Hindemith. While I do not believe I have ever heard Wilson’s playing, any artist who helped to mold Richard Stoltzman and who helped promote the clarinet music of Paul Hindemith is certainly worthy of tribute.

I enjoyed this album a great deal and recommend it strongly to any clarinetist and any fan of Hindemith’s music. This may actually make more fans!

—Daniel Coombs

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