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Giovanni Francesco GIULIANI (b c1760-after 1818)
Quatuor en Re majeur
Quatuor en Sol majeur
Quatuor en La majeur

Giovanni/Johann HOFFMANN (fl 1799)
Quatuor en Fa majeur
Quatuor en Re majeur

Quatuor PlectrArchi
Recorded c1990
PAVANE ADW 7224 [66.14]

 

Experience Classicsonline

Obscurity hovers threateningly over this disc. Whilst Giovanni Francesco Giuliani is certainly not unknown though frequently confused with various other Giulianis, mandolin playing or otherwise Giovanni Hoffmann is mired in the mists of time, his forename as uncertain as his dates of birth and death, though Vienna seems to have been his home for some considerable time.

Giuliani was born around 1760 in Livorno and died some time after 1818 in Florence. Unlike many itinerant Italian musicians of the lesser rank he managed to carve out a career for himself in the latter city, having earlier studied with two eminent masters violin with Nardini, no less, and counterpoint with Felici. He led the orchestra at the Teatro degli Intrepidi and was fortunate to be able to compose instrumental music, rather than churning out by rote church compositions as were his less fortunate contemporaries. Several of his works were published in Florence and London and he managed to compose a Symphony, six Harp Concertos, concertos for Violin and Cello, some forty quartets and much other chamber music as well a two act intermezzo though the preponderance of his compositions is weighted toward chamber forces. Quatuor PlectrArchi performs three of his two movement Quartets for violin, viola, mandolin and lute as well as two of Hoffmann's four movement works written for the same forces. The limitations and colouristic possibilities of this kind of quartet are self-evident. The play of lyricism and rhythm, of arco and pizzicato are embedded into the syntax of these not very intellectually demanding genre pieces. The Quatuor PlectrArchi are adept purveyors of these divertimento-like works the rich sounding viola of Lucienne Lovano is welcomingly expressive in the Allegro of Giulianis Re majeur where the mandolin and lute take the foreground in passagework or melodic phrasing whilst the violin and viola offer accompanying figures. I like Giuliani's abrupt sign-off ending, curtly amusing. His quartets, whilst of only two movements, are nevertheless generally of some developmental sophistication the Minuet and Variations of the Re majeur for example distributes melody and accompanying figuration with some subtlety. He can also be elegantly aloof as in the Sol majeur's Allegro or insinuate a little Mozartian lyricism (the same works concluding Rondo) and is courageous enough to thin his texture to a single melodic line and employ a generic Turkish march in the Rondo, replete with vigorous plucking.

Hoffman (fl 1799) employs a conventional four-movement quartet but within it he varies texture and colouration. Its difficult for the mandolin and lute to articulate clearly in the Allegro Molto of his Fa majeur quartet, a challenging tempo tends to fragment the melodic impulse but Hoffman's use of repeated themes with varied dynamics is wily, knowing and surprisingly successful. His Menuet is distinctly Haydnesque, stately, imposing, but the result is somewhat plodding and four square. The viola drone figure in the Re majeurs Romance is a welcome addition to the tonal palette in fact there's plenty of interest in this compact but never flimsy quartet. I'm not convinced however that that the stated Rondo finale isn't in fact more an Andante the way its played here though I admire the violin and viola unison passages and their ever rising arched theme. Hardly imperishable masterpieces then but works of craft and no little ingenuity. Good performances as well, convincing and sonorous, if with a couple of questionable tempo-related decisions. Notes are mainly given over to the performers; with the paucity of historical detail its not surprising but its disappointing that there's not a word about the music performed.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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