HINDEMITH: Piano Sonatas 1 – 3; Suite, Op. 26, “1922” – David Korevaar, piano – MSR Classics MS 1507, 72:59 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
You don’t think of Hindemith as being a spurt writer a la Schumann, but the year 1936, shortly after the creation of his operatic masterpiece Mathis der Maler, saw the creation of his three Piano Sonatas. The provocation that Mathis afforded the Nazis ultimately made the composer’s continued residence in Germany an impossibility, even though the famous Symphony derived from the opera was garnering much praise. It was not to last.
The First Sonata is an announcement of sorts, not unlike many other composers embarking on a new form, and overall the piece is replete with unsentimental and straightforward emotion, concluded with the requisite triumphal ending. Sonata No. 2 is far less aggressive and much smaller-boned, cheery and melodic with only a few hints of the melancholy. The Third Sonata returns to the monumental, both in expressivity and in the imaginative and virtuoso aspects of the score (the latter found in technical finesse as well as compositional acuity); it is one of the wonders of twentieth-century pianism, and those who avoid these sonatas because of what they perceive of Hindemith’s turgid and cluttered modal contrapuntal activity are in for quite a surprise when they encounter his free-flowing, unmannered ideas falling on the keyboard like snowflakes on a manicured lawn. These are terrific works well worth anyone’s time.
The Suite is quite simply Hindemith’s most recorded piano work even though he stated quite categorically that he “hated” the piece and did not want it played. His mistake—this is one score where we can visibly and audibly detect the instances of multifarious influences converging from that fecund and divergent musical locale of the 1920s known as Paris. Stravinsky, Les Six, jazz, Schoenberg, you name it—they all find a foothold in this marvelous Suite, still colored by the composer’s own unique experimental aura that settles in the dissonance, laughter, and spiky rhythms.
David Korevaar is a pianist of ample technical facility and an enormous range of color. I was expecting more of the latter than we get here, but he holds back on any undue sense of display or impressionistic attitudes and gives us fairly clean, unadulterated Hindemith, which in these pieces serves us and the composer quite well. It is almost useless to compare the earlier Gould recordings, as severely delightful as they are, or even the recent Hyperion collection of the Sonatas with Markus Becker, perhaps the best-sounding Hindemith piano disc to date, because Korevaar’s conception is so diametrically opposed to either of these gentlemen. The sound here is excellent, very warm and enveloping, and this suits the temperament of the performances perfectly, which are direct and highly communicative and intimate. Superb work all the way around, and few recordings are so easily recommendable.