Hindemith - Clarinet Chamber Music / J.b. Yeh, Blackwood

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Paul Hindemith's chamber music with clarinet includes some of his finest work in the medium. The 1939 Sonata for Clarinet and Piano finds the composer in a surprisingly relaxed and mellow mood, especially considering the terrible situation in which he had recently found himself in Germany--the scandal over the premiere of his opera Mathis der Mahler and his conflict with the Nazi government leading to his eventual emigration to the United States. You'd never know it to hear this sunny, tuneful work, which John Bruce Yeh plays with straightforward charm and just a touch less tonal warmth and attention to dynamic nuance than would be ideal. Still, it's a performance that, like the work itself, falls very easily on the ear, and composer Easley Blackwood offers a sympathetic piano accompaniment.

On the other hand, the Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano of 1938 features a slow movement that rises to extraordinary heights of passion, particularly for Hindemith. The players of the Amelia Piano Trio achieve real intensity here, and Yeh's long elegiac solo immediately following the movement's climax is exquisitely phrased. The long, episodic finale's central section, based on an eruptive saltarello rhythm, similarly builds to a moment of almost transfiguring intensity before the more emotionally ambiguous conclusion. If you enjoy Hindemith's best mature work--the Mathis der Maler Symphony, for example--you will find much to admire here. This quartet is a masterpiece, and this easily is its best recorded performance.

The Clarinet Quintet dates from 1923 but was revised in 1954, presumably to make it somewhat less acerbic as was Hindemith's practice in reworking what he came to regard as some of his youthful indiscretions. The very opening, with wild clarinet runs and violent string interjections, shows the energetic young composer at his most colorful and uninhibited, but the work also has plenty of easily enjoyable tunes, and its 20 minutes (spread over five movements) goes very quickly. The two tiny duets for clarinet and violin from the Music Day at Plön aren't musically important or memorable, but they are very well played.

Sonically this recording, like most of Cedille's recent work, is simply gorgeous. You will be hard pressed to find a more natural or better balanced sound than that captured in the Quartet, with the piano perfectly placed and the clarinet beautifully integrated into the ensemble so that Yeh's silky low tones color the string textures as Hindemith intended. The fact that Yeh seems a touch too forward in the Sonata undoubtedly reflects the preference of the players themselves. This then is a very distinguished release, one that even those who normally avoid Hindemith, and especially his chamber music, very easily could come to relish.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CDR 072

  • UPC: 735131907224

  • Label: Cedille

  • Composer: Paul Hindemith

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Amelia Piano Trio

  • Performer: Anthea Kreston, Baird Dodge, Easley Blackwood, Jason Duckles, John Bruce Yeh, Maureen Nelson