The String Quartet op.22, composed in November-December 1921 remained a permanent fixture in the repertoires, not only of its first performers, the Amar Quartet (with the composer playing viola), but also of international ensembles like the Budapest Quartet, Prague City Quartet, Fine Arts or Kroll Quartet…till the triumph of the Second Viennese School (1960). Although seemingly in five movements, the last two actually form a single movement, the mässig schnell, a short fantasiarecitative in the cello, leads straight into the finale, a clever rondo whose refrain for the first time affirms a persuasive key, F sharp minor. The work begins mezza voce with a very slow fugato, but the discourse soon assumes an astonishing expressive force that borders on the violent in the scherzo in which the rhythmic design, imposed by sharp accents is of intractable logic. The title of Minimax, written 25-26 July 1923, was derived from the diminutives of he names of the Prince (Max) de Fürstenberg and of Wilhelmine (Min(z)i), Countess Schönberg-Glauchauqui, to whom he has just been married. Hindemith sum up his experience as a drummer in a military band during the First World War. He incorporated a lot of literary and musical puns: Wasserdichter und Volgelbauer (on Poet and Peasant of F. von Suppé), a caricature of Johann Strauss , first in An Evening by the Source of Danube [situated in a park of von Fürstenberg castle at Donaueschingen), Danube Spring for two ‘distant’ trumpets (violin II and viola), and the final march, Alte Karbonaden, with sudden changes of tempo and modes of attack imitating brass instruments… The Overture to the flying Dutchman (August 1925) is by no means anti-Wagnerian, but reproduces, for the delectation of musicians who feed themselves by playing bandstand or silent film music, what Hindemith himself had experienced. So many of the intonations that take the musicians back to their ineffable ‘beer hall music’ are sheer marvels of the kind.
The Kocian Quartet, the excellent Czech ensemble founded in 1972, and benefiting from a splendid first violin, Pavel Hůla, and a no-less remarkable cellist, at once overturns the (anaemic) discography of these fascinating works that are practically never played in concert. With the finest stylistic aptness, their committed interpretation powerful, balanced and technically masterful goes straight to the heart of great and beautiful music that merits immediate rediscovery. We can only hope to hear them in the intense Third Quartet…. ”CHOC” DU MONDE DE LA MUSIQUE, mai 2001 Patrick Szersnovicz