Paul Hindemith’s Piano Sonatas – Markus Becker [Hyperion]

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The Three Piano Sonatas – No.1 in A; No.2 in G; No.3 in B flat

Markus Becker (piano)

Recorded 10-12 December 2012 & 26 March 2013 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: December 2013
Duration: 64 minutes



Fifty years since his death, on 28 December 1963, Paul Hindemith’s music has not experienced the anniversary-themed programming in the concert hall it deserves. However it is gratifying to note that some record companies have been relatively eager to take up his music, not least Hyperion. The majority of his output for solo piano is concentrated towards the latter half of his career, with the Piano Sonatas all dating from 1936. The first two were mostly written while the composer was organising the national music school in Ankara, Turkey.

For what appears to be the first recordings of these works since the recently late Bernard Roberts set them down for Nimbus in 1995, Hyperion have made a wise choice in choosing Markus Becker, who plays this music with a persuasive blend of virtuosity, grace and humour. The most immediate work is the Third Piano Sonata, conventionally arranged in four movements. It certainly has the best tune, a lyrical and slightly bluesy theme that opens the first movement. Becker phrases it beautifully, contrasting heavily with the demanding and action-packed double fugue that begins the finale. Here the pianist’s energy is compelling, skill coming to the fore as he doggedly navigates the early stages, breaking through to the crowning pages of the closing pages. Such technical prowess is also evident in the scherzo, which has a rapid flow of notes that carries all before it.

The Piano Sonata No.1 is a greater challenge for the listener, one that can be met with repeated hearings. This expansive work is based on a structure used by the poet Friedrich Hölderlin, reflecting the influence of the poem Der Main both in its overall shape and in the recapitulation of much of the first movement in the fourth. There is a constant run of notes in the faster movements, but there is also music of touching intimacy, often found when Hindemith approaches the end of a melodic phrase, or moves to an unexpected tonal area through an oblique cadence. His music has an unusual continuity, pressing on when other composers might pause, its lively counterpoint carrying the influence of J. S. Bach. Becker expresses these longer episodes with surety. The second movement, a stately march, is particularly profound, while the third, a substantial scherzo, has an attractive unison theme towards its end. The finale, another big-boned creation, develops an irresistible current.

The Second Piano Sonata is half the length of its predecessor, and was regarded by its composer as more of a sonatina. In comparison with the weighty first work, it is idyllic, with three fresh-faced short movements that lead to a compressed but meaningful finale. Becker enjoys the greater freedom of this music, loosed from its formal constraints, and his lightness of touch is ideal.To close this recital, the Variations is a good complementary choice. Originally intended as the second movement of the Piano Sonata No.1, it remained unpublished until after the composer’s death. Based on a march-like theme, the commentaries move through rather troubled waters, finishing with a frown. Although it may be a shame to finish the disc on a slightly downward moment, this recording is a very impressive achievement. Markus Becker has clearly immersed himself in these pieces, instinctively knowing how and when to let Hindemith’s often-complex counterpoint breathe, and how to emphasise the attractive melodies. With excellent recorded sound and an enlightening booklet notes from Malcolm MacDonald, Hyperion has produced a noteworthy release with which to celebrate the music of Paul Hindemith.

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