> Hoffmeister Clarinet Quartets [OW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz Anton HOFFMEISTER (1754-1812)
Clarinet Quartets

Quartet in A major
Quartet in B-flat major
Quartet in D major
Quartet in E-flat major
Dieter Klöcker, clarinet
Members of the Vlach Quartet Prague (Jana Vlachová, violin; Petr Verner, viola; Mikael Ericsson, cello)
Recorded Tonstudio Teije van Geest, Sandhausen, Clara-Wieck Auditorium, April 30th and May 3rd 2001.
CPO 999 812-2 [75.43]


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This disc sees what are, presumably, premiere recordings of four works for clarinet and string trio composed by Hoffmeister from a series of six pieces that have not been published. Born in Rottenberg an Neckar in 1754, Hoffmeister was studying in Vienna by the age of 14. There he befriended Mozart, to whom he gave financial assistance (in return, Mozart dedicated a string quartet to Hoffmeister). Having a considerably better head for business than his contemporary, Hoffmeister owned and ran his own publishing company and his partners in business included the composers Pleyel and Dittersdorf. Interestingly, he was a freemason along with Mozart and Haydn. All of which hasn’t helped his fate in the history books. Long forgotten and cruelly neglected by performers and scholars alike, Hoffmeister has suffered in the same way as countless other Viennese classicists of the 18th and 19th centuries (such as Pleyel and Süssmayer).

Foremost an instrumental composer, Hoffmeister left many compositions for flute, quartets for strings or wind, piano concertos, symphonies and numerous concertos and serenades for wind. He composed two series of six compositions for the present combination of clarinet and string trio. The first of these was published by Pleyel in 1802 whilst the other was never published. It is four works from this latter set that appear on this handsomely presented new recording from CPO. According to the booklet note provided by clarinettist Dieter Klöcker (who unearthed these quartets from the library of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna), these unpublished quartets are longer, more difficult and more elaborate than their predecessors. Furthermore, Hoffmeister frequently takes the clarinet to the extremes of its register in a way that few had done previously. And while his musical style is most obviously ‘Mozartian’, it becomes clear that he could at times be far more than a mere clone.

The opening work on the disc, in A major, is a good indicator of what is to follow, both in terms of music and performance. The first movement is by turns tuneful and decorative, featuring a plethora of clarinet runs and arpeggios (played with fluency through each register by Klöcker) but with some pleasingly graceful ideas. Whilst the strings are generally no more than an accompaniment to the clarinettist’s acrobatics, in the central development section they take on a slightly more active role. The three members of the Vlach Quartet play with sensitivity in accompanying passages but their bright, thin sound (due in part to a discreet use of vibrato, a concession no doubt to period performance) will not be to all tastes, becoming abrasive above the stave or at higher dynamic levels. Whilst the clarity and vibrancy of this approach is, by and large, and asset in the outer movements (the concluding Allegro is joyful and carefree), the central Poco Adagio suffers somewhat. At a flowing pace, these musicians are commendably unindulgent yet the effect is perhaps too positive, the brightness of the strings and a slight feeling of haste creating a somewhat unsettled atmosphere when the mood should be calmer and more intimate.

Generally, these reservations apply to the remainder of the disc, if in smaller measures. Slow movements are played with greater sensitivity than that of the first work, featuring some expressive playing, particularly in the Romance poco Allegro of the B-flat work (track 5) although here the brightness of the violin sound becomes tiresome above the stave. The first movement of the same work features some excellent string playing, however, particularly the well-articulated (and characterised) violins runs early on. This movement also shows the clarinet at the extremes of its register, never merely for effect but always as part of a cogent musical argument. Klöcker dispatches all of this with considerable ease and, in the concluding Rondo, excellent breath control. In fact, all of the players seem to be in their element here, providing a performance of wit and point in the more extrovert moments and winning grace elsewhere.

The most interesting piece on this disc is the final work, in E-flat. Contrary to the CD cover, this does not last for 81 minutes although it does contain five movements instead of the usual three. The first two movements are much as before, a sonata form allegro followed by a slower movement. However, Hoffmeister then writes what appears to be a three-fold finale consisting of three extremely short fast movements. The first of these, a Rondo, is positive and extrovert, drawing similar virtues from these players. The succeeding Allegro is so compact as to seem manic- the music of this ternary movement reaches the minor after just 20 seconds and moves away from it with similar speed. The conclusion sees Hoffmeister at his most witty, a pause followed by a throwaway punch line accompanied by staccato strings. The final movement reinforces the somewhat odd nature of this triptych. Hoffmeister here writes an utterly conventional, undistinguished and formulaic classical menuetto in the manner of early Mozart. However, he interrupts this with a brief statement of the rondo theme from the third movement to draw the work to a close. It is worth stating that these players present the little menuetto in the requisite po-faced manner.

So while much on this disc brings to mind Hoffmeister’s more famous contemporaries, there is still a seam of individuality running through these works. More importantly, there is an exuberance and sense of joy throughout, countered by the songful inner movements. These performances are consistently enjoyable and as long as the listener does not have a complete dislike for the ‘period’ sound, then there is much to stimulate in these delightful works. Klöcker himself, presumably the driving force behind these recordings, is an impressive soloist who brings to life the frequently difficult clarinet writing. The result is effervescent. His informative booklet note, containing a great deal of useful information about the composer is unfortunately rendered misleading or in places incomprehensible by the muddled translation. Sound quality is excellent and CPO’s presentation is very attractive. Recommended to anyone with an interest in chamber music of the classical period or to those who simply like to be entertained.

Owen Walton

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