> Leopold Hofmann - Concertos for oboe and oboe and harpsichord [MC]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leopold HOFMANN (1738-1793)
Concertos for oboe and oboe and harpsichord

Oboe concerto in C major (Badley C2) [16:25]
Concerto for oboe and harpsichord in F major (Badley F1) [21:24]
Concerto for oboe and harpsichord in C major (Badley C1) [23:01]
Oboe concerto in G major (Badley G1) [13:03]
Stefan Schilli, Oboe
Jeno Jando, Harpsichord
Nicholaus Esterhazy Sinfonia/Bela Drahos
Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, from 14th-17th June 1999 DDD
NAXOS 8.553979 [73:53]


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At my last count this is the seventh release in the imaginative Naxos series of Hofmann’s orchestral and concertante works. Featured here on this disc are two concertos for oboe and two concertos for oboe and harpsichord thought to have been composed somewhere between 1765 and 1775.

Leopold Hofmann was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most gifted and influential composers of his generation with his music being performed widely throughout Europe. Hofmann specialist Dr. Alan Bradley writes in the booklet notes that he, "was the most prolific and arguably the most popular composer of concertos, in Vienna during the mid-eighteenth century. He composed around sixty concertos between the 1750s to 1770s, for a variety of solo instruments."

Problematically none of the concertos featured on this disc received a wide circulation in his day as the oboe was not favoured as a solo instrument. Nevertheless copies of Hofmann’s concertos for oboe, and oboe and harpsichord can be found in various European cities, which suggest that his reputation as a composer for the instrument was well known. There is an account of a performance of a lost double oboe concerto performed at the Vienna Court in 1762.

In Alan Badley’s opinion, "Hofmann’s concertos are characterised by their well-wrought musical structures, attractive melodic ideas and highly idiomatic solo writing. Even in instances where the solo instruments are interchangeable, as in the case with the flute/oboe concertos, the writing lends the works a very distinctive quality."

The concertos on this release are typical of Hofmann’s style of concertante writing. They are in the classical form, with two lively and quick movements (allegros) with a slow and broad central movement (adagio). Hofmann makes extensive use of the solo instrument’s delicate ornamentation and likes to experiment with various combinations of solo instruments against orchestral forces that range from those similar to a light basso continuo to a standard classical orchestra. For example in the concerto for oboe and harpsichord (Badley F1) he perhaps surprisingly uses two horns in an obbligato role. I view Hofmann’s music as engaging and exceptionally well crafted but lacking the innate recourses of the emotional substance and melodic invention of Mozart and Haydn’s natural gift for orchestration and musical development.

The mellow oboe playing of Stefan Schilli, the principal of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, is exceptionally fine throughout and his undoubted talent and the performance is main highlight of the disc. Schilli is sensitively accompanied, in the two double concertos, by the ubiquitous Jeno Jando who plays the harpsichord as well as we have come to expect. Bela Drahos thoughtfully directs the Nicholas Esterhazy Sinfonia sympathetically and his readings for Naxos continue to impress and add to his reputation.

Unfortunately there is a major drawback with the harpsichord sound that is far too distant and is barely audible, without adjusting the volume. Perhaps the oboe is placed a fraction too forward for some tastes that only adds to push the sound of the harpsichord further into the background. This is a shame as the disc would be otherwise recommendable.

Michael Cookson

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