“These Hindemith sonatas are a great asset to the wind repertory,” says the oboist François Leleux of the five sonatas for solo instruments and piano that appear on this album, performed by members of the wind ‘supergroup’ Les Vents Français.
Though dating from the dramatic years between 1936 and 1943, these compact works, written for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and alto horn, are optimistic, lucid and engaging. Playing them are, respectively, Emmanuel Pahud, François Leleux, Paul Meyer, Gilbert Audin, and Radovan Vlatković (here exchanging his customary French horn for the alto horn – also known as the tenor horn – an instrument familiar from brass bands). The pianist in all five sonatas is Eric le Sage, a regular collaborator of Les Vents Français.
“Hindemith took a very particular approach to each instrument, with a wonderful sense for its individual sound,” continues Leleux. “His sonatas are very diverse, but each carries Hindemith’s distinctive signature. He was definitely a big fan of Stravinsky and his approach is very human and playful – expressive and lyrical and never over-intellectual.”
Paul Hindemith’s output was prolific and he composed a wealth of sonatas for a diversity of instruments, including the harp, double bass, viola d’amore and an ensemble of four horns. In 1939 he wrote to his publisher: “You will be surprised that I am writing sonatas for all the wind instruments. I already wanted to write a whole series of these pieces. First of all, there's nothing decent for these instruments except for a few classical things … It is meritorious over the long term to enrich this literature. And since I myself have been so interested in playing wind instruments, I take great pleasure in these pieces.” The viola is the instrument most closely identified with Hindemith as a player, but he was also a skilled clarinettist and pianist, and adept at transferring his practical skills to virtually any instrument he chose.
By the time he wrote those words the German-born composer was living in Switzerland, where he had moved in 1938, the year his opera Mathis der Maler (completed in Germany in 1935) received its premiere in Zürich. In 1940, at the age of 45, he moved the USA, where he took up a teaching post at Yale. In the 1920s he had achieved prominence as an avant-gardiste, but this did not prevent him from becoming an advocate of Gebrauchsmusik (literally “music for use”) – music that could be integrated into daily life and played by amateurs for both enjoyment and enlightenment. After 1933, when the Nazis came to power, his music became subject to criticism, even to condemnation as ‘degenerate’, and in 1936 it was banned from performance in Germany. A vastly more positive aspect of his experience in the 1930s was the time he spent in Turkey at the invitation of the reforming government of Kemal Atatürk, establishing institutions for musical education.
“Hindemith holds a very important position in musical history, by virtue of the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic development of his musical discourse,” concludes François Leleux. With this album of his sonatas, Les Vents Français are maintaining the lively precedent they have set with their previous recordings for Warner Classics. As Gramophone wrote in June 2019 when reviewing their album Moderniste: “Les Vents Français have continued to set the pace in terms of wind-ensemble repertoire since their Gramophone Award-winning Winds & Piano [in 2015], with Moderniste offering a further selection of pieces which embody qualities of modernism in various and unexpected ways.”
Warner Classics and Erato artists have been nominated in five categories of the 2015 Gramophone Awards, with winners to be revealed in a London ceremony on 17 September. Competition is stiff, affirming the high quality of classical music-making and recording we enjoy despite the vagaries of the industry.
In the Recital category: Joyce DiDonato's album of Neapolitan arias and exciting bel canto rarities, Stella di Napoli.
Gramophone praised the American mezzo-soprano's "warm tone, perfect control, a deeply sympathetic portrayal…DiDonato invests the music with tragic grandeur”.
The Erato label's dream-cast recording of Steffani's little-known opera Niobe is among illustrious nominees in the Baroque Vocal section.
“Philippe Jaroussky sounds in his element…where he sings softly mysterious music to invoke the circling spheres (‘Sfere amiche’)…Act 3 requires Jaroussky to unleash a torrent of melismatic virtuosity (‘Trà bellici carmi’).”
“This is a glorious disc. Simply glorious." Thus opened the Gramophone review of Piotr Anderszewski's Bach English Suites, nominated for Instrumental album of the year.
"At every turn, he harnesses the possibilities of the piano in the service of Bach; the result is a clear labour of love, and one in which he shines new light on old music to mesmerising effect,” Gramophone praised the Polish pianist.
In the Chamber category, Gramophone hailed flautist Emmanuel Pahud's ensemble Les Vents Français "a positive dream team, who not only capture the music’s individual spirit but also clearly enjoy doing so."
The magazine crowned the group's 3-CD album Winds and Piano "a compelling compendium of creative variety unified by matchless musicianship.”
Estonian maestro Paavo Järvi is one of ten luminaries in the running for Artist of the Year. "At a time when some other conductors seem to be focusing their recording activity on single-composer projects or on big landmark ventures, Järvi is bucking the trend in...the way in which he views recording as an integral part of his daily musical life."
His most recent recordings include a controversial album of rarely performed Shostakovich cantatas with his home orchestra, the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and Estonian Concert Choir, as well as Dutilleux and Rachmaninoff albums with the Orchestre de Paris.
View the complete list of Gramophone nominees and read the reviews here.