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Franz Anton HOFFMEISTER (1754-1812)
Notturnos (Quintets):

Quintet in B No.1 [15.47]
Quintet No.2 [14.15]
Quintet in E flat No.4 [14.31]
Quintet in F No.5 [14.26]
Quintet in C No.6 [14.28]
Simon Fuchs (oboe), Primož Novšak (violin), Michel Rouilly (viola 1), Katja Fuchs (viola 2), Jakob Hefti (horn), Manfred Sax (bassoon)
Recorded in the Blumenstein Church. Bern, June 2003
TUDOR SACD 7124 [73.32]

I suppose Hoffmeister is best known for his celebrated Viola Concerto. But in his time he was as well known for publishing as for composition – his firm eventually transmuted into C. F. Peters – though his prodigious output was reflected in one hundred quartets for flute and strings, a raft of symphonic literature, long forgotten stage works and the like.

These Notturnos, quintets for winds and strings, are genial and well crafted works but cut from the easy listening, divertimento or tafelmusik cloth. Looking through my notes I see the words "agreeable" and "loquacious" cropping up time and again and that will give you a fair indication of the pitch of these five works. Hoffmeister at least had the entertaining idea to score for violin, two violas and the winds or, in the case of Nos. 4 and 5 to dispense with the violin altogether. It gives a warm and mellow sonority to the voicings. First movements feature good running string figuration (No.1 in B) and slow movements tend to veer very much to Andantes or even Allegrettos than the stated Adagio (No.1 again and Nos. 2 and 6 share this characteristic lightness of declamation).

What he did possess is a certain raffish grazioso element, and it’s that that enlivens these quintets and gives them some degree of personality beyond the purely functional. The opening of No.4 possesses it in abundance with the oboe dancing over a warm string cushion and the bassoon at the bottom providing basic harmonic direction and filling out the texture – pretty much a safe description of most of these works. Occasionally he will set a string player free – as he does with the violin in the slow movement of No.2, or he’ll introduce a witty cadential passage for the horn as in the Minuet of No.4. It’s only in the slightly quizzical harmonic implications of the opening Adagio of the Divertimento-like No.5 that we can see Hoffmeister opening up the pleasing detachment of these works to explore other, more expressive material. But it’s not for long.

These are effortlessly genial works, attractively played, and warmly recorded. Quietly humorous and Mannheim-Mozartian in stylistic affiliation they make for exceptionally undemanding listening – as was surely the intention.

Jonathan Woolf



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