One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             



The Complete Josef Hofmann. Volume 8

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, op. 58
1. I. Allegro moderato [15:55]
2. II. Andante con moto [4:27]
3. III. Rondo: Vivace [9:19]
Conducted by Eugene Ormandy
4 April 1938

Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

4. Polonaise in A, op. 40 no. 1, "Military" [3:09]
1 March 1943
5. Waltz in D-flat, op. 64 no. 1, "Minute" [1:33]
9 August 1943
6. Etude in G-flat, op. 25 no. 9, "Butterfly"[1:03]
31 July 1944
7. Waltz in A-flat, op. 42 [3:54]
14 January 1946
8. Berceuse in D-flat, op. 57 [3:46]
13 January 1947
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

9. Song Without Words in A, op. 62 no. 6, "Spring Song" [2:52]
30 July 1945
10. Song Without Words in C, op. 67 no. 4, "Spinning Song" [1:52]
19 August 1946
11. Rondo capriccioso in E, op. 14 [6:43]
13 January 1947
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

12. Prelude in G Minor, op. 23 no. 5 [3:58]
30 July 1945
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

13. March, op. 12 no. 1 [1:31]
19 August 1946
Anatol LIADOV (1855-1914)

14. Musical Snuff Box [1:31]
9 August 1943
15. Musical Snuff Box [1:26]
14 January 1946

Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

Piano Concerto No. 3 in G, op. 45
1. I. Moderato assai [10:56]
2. II. Moderato [5:24]
3. III. Allegro non troppo [9:26]
Conducted by Artur Rodzinski
5 March 1944
Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, op. 70
4. I. Moderato assai [12:20]
5. II. Andante [10:08]
6. III. Allegro [9:52]
Conducted by Karl Krueger
10 March 1945

Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894):
7. Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, op. 70, First Movement (Moderato assai) [10:50]
Conducted by Donald Voorhees
27 March 1944
8. Concerto No. 4 in D Minor, Third Movement (Allegro) [10:09]
Conducted by Donald Voorhees
1 March 1943
MARSTON 52044-2 [63.06 + 79.10]

Volume eight of the Hofmann series has arrived. Only one volume now remains, one that will restore the legendary cylinder recordings as well as much else. In the meantime we are treated to an absorbing, infuriating and erratic selection of material spanning the years 1938 to 1947, which coincide with Hofmann’s years of decline.

The Beethoven Concerto in G has been represented in Hofmann’s off-air discography for many years. Since he didn’t record commercially after the late acoustic 1924 Brunswicks anything that remains is of the most pressing importance, even in compromised live performances. The Ormandy-Philadelphia traversal has used new source material and the transfer sounds immeasurably the better for it and I rank it higher than the Barbirolli-led performance principally for Hofmann’s greater technical assurance. True, there are some swishes but the assiduous collector will not be inconvenienced. As ever Hofmann’s Beethoven is an acquired taste. It’s the opposite of Olympian, and marries incendiary left hand independence with frivolous passagework that will repel or enthral according to taste. The aggression he imparts is part of an unceasing engagement, the driving cadenzas (Reinecke’s) certainly played with lordly dynamism if in questionable taste. In the slow movement one may find him superficial if one’s yardstick is, say, Schnabel, Solomon or Arrau and in the finale there are, along with some sound distractions, elements of pertness that tend to vitiate the earlier dynamism. It’s a strongly personalised performance, as one would expect from a man like Hofmann, and bound to divide critical opinion, as his Beethoven invariably does.

The Bell Telephone Hour broadcast material is a hit and miss affair, though alas more of the latter than the former. His Chopin Polonaise is very wobbly, with over-compensating thunderous climaxes; the Minute Waltz is really rather outrageous, the Butterfly Etude sabotaged by pounding left hand assaults, the A flat Waltz very unsubtle and the Berceuse is compromised by shattery recorded sound. The Mendelssohn selection is better; legato is elegant and warm and he seems far more at peace with himself here than he did in the various Chopin pieces. His Rachmaninov Prelude goes off the rails and the Liadov hardly impresses either and the defective performances were doubtless the product of his troubled latter years, one that have been dealt with extensively in articles throughout the years.

The second disc is devoted to Anton Rubinstein, to whom Hofmann owed so much. The Third Concerto is in fine sound and there’s some leonine, driving pianism from Hofmann as well as jaunty insouciance, most especially in the opening movement of this rather repetitious opus. His effortless legato in the slow movement is as impressive as the thundering drama of the finale – even though here the orchestral sound is rather submerged in the balance and for a time it becomes a solo piano concerto. Splintery sound afflicts the better-known Fourth Concerto but we can make out his intense engagement with the dynamism and rhetoric. The finale is hell-for-leather but again brittle sound limits enjoyment somewhat – along with some (engineer inflicted?) sudden dampening down of volume. Still, the playing as such is visceral and intensely exciting.

Complete with extensive documentary notes and biographical essays, along with some well-defined and reproduced photographs, this will be a necessary purchase for Hofmann admirers.

Jonathan Woolf



Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.