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Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1939)* [27:15]
Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 31 No. 2 (1924) [9:05]
Sonata in E flat for Violin and Piano, Op. 11 No. 1 (1918) [8:40]
Sonata in E for Violin and Piano (1935) [9:10]
Sonata in C for Violin and Piano (1939) [12:42]
Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi*
Enrico Pace (piano)
rec. September 2009, Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany
BIS BIS-SACD-2024 [68:18]

Paul Hindemith became known as a performer on the viola, but his first instrument was the violin, becoming leader of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra at the age of 19. In this fine recording from BIS we hear Frank Peter Zimmerman performing on the ‘Lady Inchiquin’ Stradivarius, which by all accounts has a beautiful tone and a wonderful high lyric tessitura.
 
Released on the ‘Decca Legends’ series, the classic recording of Hindemith’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra is that with David Oistrakh, and this still sounds excellent though with one or two rough edges to the orchestral playing. You’ll want this for the sheer amount of emotion and feeling in Oistrakh’s playing and Hindemith’s own conducting, but in recent years it has been Leonidas Kavakos on Chandos (see review) who has been many people’s modern reference. This is still an excellent recording, but Zimmermann is closer to Oistrakh in delivering the passion in the music, to the point of including numerous portamenti between wider leaps. Zimmermann manages to make this sound ‘right’ and unsentimental, certainly within the character of the music, filled with fervour and angst as it is. The Frankfurt RSO is a magnificent orchestra, and the energy of the final Lebhaft movement is tensile and vibrant, the synergy between soloist and orchestra electric.
 
You would expect great things from Frank Peter Zimmermann in Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Violin, and he certainly delivers. His playing is less edgy than Ruggiero Ricci on Decca (see review), managing to create a more flexible sense of Leicht and Ruhig while coming in with similar timings per movement apart from the final variations on Mozart’s “Komm lieber Mai”, which he gives a more dancing lilt and greater forward momentum.
 
The works for violin and piano are superbly accompanied by Enrico Pace, whose touch is sensitive to the changes in character and idiom between the playful first movement of the early Sonata in E flat, the melodic expressiveness of the 1935 Sonata in E and the more heated energy in the Sonata in C which precedes and anticipates the Violin Concerto. Looking for comparisons I came across a CPO recording (999 313-2) of the sonatas with Ulf Hoelscher and Benedikt Koehlen, but while this is decent enough it isn’t in the same league as Zimmermann and Pace. The CPO balance on headphones places the violin in your lap while the piano is somewhere over your left shoulder, and finding the same kind of involvement is hard to achieve. The BIS recording gives equal billing to piano and violin, and the air crackles between the two in the more intense passages, a movement such as the final Fuge of the Sonata in C taking us on a musical journey more akin to religious ecstasy than anything with its basis in academic composing technique.
 
Such a fine production can only be greeted in the warmest possible terms. If your idea of Hindemith is one of him as a rather dry 20th century Germanic caste give this disc a try - a juicier programme of violin music would be harder to find this side of WWI.
 
Dominy Clements