Hindemith: Wind Sonatas review – fabulously fluent performances

Les Vents Français/Eric Le Sage
(Warner Classics)
There is lots to admire as the quintet and pianist capture Paul Hindemith’s best known sonatas to reveal their hidden depths

As well as being one of the 20th century’s leading neoclassical composers, Paul Hindemith was also an outstanding instrumentalist, first as a violinist and later as a viola player of international renown. His versatility was such that reputedly he could play each of the standard orchestral instruments to professional standard, and he utilised that hands-on knowledge in the sonatas (26 altogether) that he composed for all of them.

Hindemith: Wind Sonatas album cover.
Hindemith: Wind Sonatas album cover. Photograph: Parlophone Records Ltd

The wind sonatas are perhaps the best known, and few woodwind and horn players will not have learnt the relevant Hindemith work at some stage in their careers. Partnered by the pianist Eric Le Sage, the members of the quintet Les Vents Français, all of them front-rank soloists in their own right, give fabulously fluent performances of pieces that they have probably known since they were students. There are the sonatas for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, modestly proportioned works, none of which lasts longer than 16 minutes, and all composed in the late 1930s. But, instead of the 1938 Horn Sonata, Radovan Vlatković opts for the sonata for tenor horn, which Hindemith wrote in 1942, but which is often now played on the French horn.

There’s lots to admire in Emmanuel Pahud’s performance of the Flute Sonata and François Leleux’s account of the oboe work, both smooth and suave, the epitome of French woodwind playing, and in the agility of clarinettist Paul Meyer and bassoonist Gilbert Audin. But it’s the four-movement Tenor Horn Sonata that’s the real treasure here. Vlatković reveals it to be a work of unexpected beauty and depth, with a spoken dialogue between the horn-player and the pianist, which Hindemith inserted as a preface to the finale, adding to its enigmatic charm.

This week’s other pick

The first of the two discs in Brilliant Classics’ survey of Hindemith’s Complete Sonatas for Wind Instruments and Piano mostly duplicates the Warner Classics recording, except that, instead of the sonata for tenor horn, we get the original 1938 Horn Sonata. Alongside the less often heard works for trumpet, English horn, trombone and tuba, the second disc does include the Tenor Horn Sonata, in a version for alto saxophone, but it’s the work for tuba, with the brass instrument’s galumphing phrases set against the piano’s hyperactivity that’s the most striking of them.

The recordings, made in Assisi with Italian soloists and the pianist Filippo Farinelli as their common denominator, seem closer, more involving than those in the Warner Classics collection; the performances are perhaps spikier, less suave than their French equivalents, but equally accomplished. It’s worth pointing out, too, that the two Brilliant discs cost significantly less than the single Warner one.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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