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Of the iconic modernist composers of the 20th century – Stravinsky, Bartók, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten, and Berg – Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) finds himself represented in the current orchestral repertory with only a small handful of pieces – the Symphonic Metamorphoses, Mathis der Maler, Nobilissima Visione, and the viola concerto, Der Schwanendreher – yet his influence remains large and pervasive due to the huge assortment of chamber works he composed – at least one sonata for every instrument of the orchestra as well as many works for special occasions and for student ensembles.
So it was a great pleasure to hear some of the jewels of this vast treasury of chamber works in a concert in Watson Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, coordinated and curated by Judith Saxon, UNCSA trumpet instructor, and Patrick Marriott, Music Director of WHQR, Public Radio in Wilmington, NC, who presented an entertaining pre-concert slide show entitled "Paul Hindemith: A Complete Musician." Nine faculty members and one student of UNCSA were joined by three members of the Winston-Salem Symphony to perform sonatas for trumpet, violin, and viola, a brass quartet, and a wind septet.
Beginning boldly (Hindemith entitles the first movement "Mit Kraft" – "With Power") with the 1939 Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, Ms. Saxon was joined by Allison Gagnon, piano, to deliver a stunning performance filled with dramatic contrasts of loud and soft as well as tempo and character. This middle-period Hindemith is lean and contrapuntal, making use of tonal centers but with many chromatic and dissonant intervals. It ends in a very peaceful and quiet manner, unexpected from such a powerful instrument as the trumpet.
In complete contrast, the Violin Sonata, Opus 11, No. 1, written in 1918, is a lushly romantic piece in two movements, "Brisk" and "In the tempo of a slow solemn dance." Again, great contrasts of dynamics added to the drama of the music. Occasionally the piano seemed to dominate the louder passages, but the softer moments revealed the warm tender tone of UNCSA faculty member Kevin Lawrence, who delivered, along with Ms. Gagnon, a very nuanced performance.
The first half of the concert ended in a celebratory mood with Morganmusik ("Morning Music" – 1932) for two trumpets and two trombones. The lovely homogeneous blend of the four instruments allowed us to appreciate the contrapuntal style of the work. The middle movement of the three, "Lied" ("Song"), starts in unison with musicians peeling off and holding the note until a resolution is provided; and the martial last movement, "Bewegt" ("Agitated"), starts with a descending and rising fourth reminiscent of the opening of Bizet's Arlésienne music. Trumpeter Judith Saxon was joined by Wade Weast, the Dean of the School of Music, on the other trumpet part, and by Brian French and Erik Salzwedel, both from the Winston-Salem Symphony, on trombones.
Hindemith was purportedly able to play any instrument, but he was originally a violinist and violist of considerable importance. So it is not surprising that he has written many works for viola (and viola d'amore, that baroque instrument with half a dozen strings and as many sympathetic strings), including the moving Sonata for Solo Viola, Opus 25, No. 1 (1922), in five movements (the first two played without interruption). UNCSA faculty member Sheila Browne played this lovely work with expressive passion and thoughtful clarity. She put her warm dark tone and impeccable intonation at the service of this great piece, at times declamatory, at others introspective, and finally rhapsodic – but not before a whirlwind of a fourth movement, where the composer urges the performer to put beauty of tone second to the rage of the wild tempo!
The concert concluded with the Septet for Winds (1948), in five movements. Trumpeter Judith Saxton was joined by faculty members Tadeu Coelho (flute), Robin Driscoll (oboe), Oskar Espina-Ruiz (clarinet), Saxton Rose (bassoon), Wake Forest faculty member Eileen Young (bass clarinet), and UNCSA student Jessica Appolinario (horn) for this rousing performance. Starting with a dissonant trill, harbinger of the yet-to-come Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Weber, the first movement makes great use of contrasts, often sailing legato tunes over choppy staccato punctuation. Playful ritardandos add humor, and a tongue-in-cheek coda to the first movement recalls the over long endings of some Beethoven symphonies. Each instrument has prolonged solos, variations, or cadenzas. The final movement is a joyful romp with the trumpet constantly trying to interject some silly ditty of a folk tune or street song. The audience gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation!