Washington’s classical music scene becomes like a desert in the summer, dotted with small oases of music. Inscape Chamber Orchestra offered serious relief with a program devoted entirely to the music of Paul Hindemith, presented Sunday by the National Gallery of Art. In the manner of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, director Richard Scerbo spoke about the composer’s style, which is occasionally dissonant but still grounded on tonal centers, and each work’s background.
The musicians, including accordionist Simone Baron on the harmonium part, relished the flurry of musical activity in the fast movements of “Kammermusik No. 1” from the 1920s, which culminated in a trumpet fox trot quotation and the roar of a siren. Clarinet, bassoon and flute solos intertwined beautifully in the “Quartett” movement, punctuated by soft tings on a single Glockenspiel key tuned to F-sharp, held up by the percussionist like a triangle.
Oboist Bethany Slater distinguished herself with a plangent solo in the ardent slow movement of the “Kleine Kammermusik” for wind quintet. Playing without Scerbo conducting, because it is a work of chamber music, the group ably negotiated the rhythmic interplay of the hemiola-rich finale.
Scerbo demonstrated the breadth of Hindemith’s contributions to the sonata repertory for just about every solo instrument, having six musicians play brief excerpts. Clarinetist Evan Ross Solomon and pianist Tim McReynolds then performed the entire “Clarinet Sonata,” marked by a slow movement largely in the clarinet’s brooding chalumeau register. The opening serenade and perky finale had the easygoing pace of a French flâneur.
Rounding out this portrait was a facet not often associated with Hindemith, that of ballet composer. He composed his beguiling “Herodiade” for Martha Graham, who gave the world premiere at the Library of Congress in 1944. As on its 2014 recording of the work, Inscape omitted the lines of the Stéphane Mallarmé poem that can be spoken over the music. This allowed the ear to focus on the lush string quintet textures, led gorgeously by first violinist Kei Sugiyama, and an especially poignant solo from bassoonist Benjamin Greanya.