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Franz Anton HOFFMEISTER (1754-1812)
String Quartet in F major, Op. 14 No.1
String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 14 No.2
String Quartet in D minor, Op. 14 No.3
Aviv Quartet: Sergey Ostrovsky (first violin); Evgenia Epshtein (second violin); Shuli Waterman (viola); Iris Jortner (cello)
Rec. Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary from 11-24 November, 2001 DDD
NAXOS 8.555952 [59:23]

Although Franz Anton Hoffmeister is best remembered today as a publisher, his work-list is extensive and includes over sixty symphonies and a number of operas, not to mention over thirty string quartets. The three quartets on the present Naxos disc date from around 1791. All three of them exude a most approachable confidence that is more than adequately projected by the Aviv String Quartet. His music is expertly crafted, gratefully written an, above all, exquisitely charming without making any pretence towards greatness.

This young Russo-Israeli quartet has evidently earned its place in Naxos’ ‘Laureate Series’. The quartet was formed as recently as 1997. The young musicians bring with them a string of competition wins, and on the strength of the present release these were fully deserved. The F major quartet, Op. 14 No. 1 is a case in point. The jolly first movement is suffused with delightfully sprung rhythms; the Poco adagio breathes an easy charm. The finale, with its fresh accents, confirms the invigorating nature of the whole piece.

The B flat quartet is very much of the same ilk. The concentration from the players in the first movement is most commendable – it is as if they are saying, ‘We take this music seriously and you should, too’. There are some lovely references to hunting calls (appropriately for the chosen key) and in the Romance Sergey Ostrovsky’s violin sings purely and sweetly. Interchanges between violin and cello are beautifully rendered, while the almost preternatural civility of the finale is peppered with surprisingly explosive sforzandi.

As might perhaps be expected, entering the minor mode for the final quartet on the disc leads to deeper thoughts. The Vivace is indeed lively, but intense at the same time. The stately and dignified Adagio cantabile matches this movement well. The final movement effectively banishes the clouds.

An interesting excursion into one of the byways of the string quartet repertoire. The recording is entirely acceptable. A joy from first to last.

Colin Clarke

See also review by Michael Cookson



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