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.