The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Michael Zaretsky (viola) Xak Bjerken (piano)
Composer: Hindemith

Paul Hindemith wrote all his viola music for his own use during his years as a soloist. The earliest piece is one of the most popular: the Sonata for viola and piano op.11 no.4 of 1919, consisting of a Fantasie followed by an extended set of variations. One of the most beloved viola recital pieces, it contrasts lush harmonies with outlandish indications such as ‘With bizarre awkwardness’. The present CD opens with a well thought-through performance by Michael Zaretsky, Russian-born member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and his long-time piano partner. In their hands, the piece flows seamlessly as the composer wanted, but still leaves room for characterising the individual variations. Hindemith’s Sonata op.25 no.4 from 1922 is a quite different affair, with angular melodies, a percussive piano part and dogged ostinatos. Zaretsky and Bjerken realise the piece’s very different sound world convincingly, building up an impressive momentum until the concluding E major climax.

In between come two unaccompanied sonatas. Op.11 no.5 ends with a monumental movement ‘In the form and tempo of a passacaglia’, and again Zaretsky holds the vast, variegated structure strongly together. Op.25 no.1 includes the infamous remark ‘Raging tempo. Wild. Beauty of sound is unimportant’. If Zaretsky doesn’t quite match Hindemith’s metronome marking (crotchet[symbol?]=600–640!) in this movement, in compensation you can hear every note, and with a modicum of ‘beauty of sound’, too. The truthful recording has both instruments very much up front to impressive effect. 

Carlos María Solare