The blurb for this CD says that Franz Hoffmeister "is better
known as a publisher". Naxos, generally great champions
of minor and neglected composers, have been slow to help bring
Hoffmeister to public attention. Now, after waiting eight years
to release a follow-up to a recording of his op.14 String Quartets
in 2003 (see review),
Naxos have issued two discs of this German-born Viennese composer's
music in a little over six months. This latest follows a CD
of 1980s recordings of his Double Bass Quartets (see review).
Hoffmeister was a prolific composer, and the two viola works
here are among nearly fifty concertos for various instruments.
Chamber works showcasing the viola were reasonably common in
the Classical period. We think of Mozart or Michael Haydn's
Duos (see review
of recent release), or Alessandro Rolla's Sonatas, a recording
of which by Jennifer Stumm was released by Naxos just a few
months back (see review).
Concertos were much rarer, with the mainly Mannheim-based Stamitz
family being arguably the most important trailblazers.
The three works in this programme all date from the same period,
give or take a decade, and are similar in length and structure.
They open with a long, muscle-flexing allegro, followed
by a medium-length slow movement, reflective in nature and then
end with a bright, breezy four-minute rondo finale. Given also
the self-imposed rules under which Classical composers were
writing, it is hardly surprising that all three works resemble
each other. Perhaps they are best appreciated heard separately,
or at least with a tea break in between. There is no doubting,
however, the craftsmanship that has gone into these Concertos
and especially the writing for viola. It is given a relatively
uncommon chance to shine as a bringer of melodic cheer, not
tear, especially in the Hoffmeister works. Of these the first
movement of the B flat Concerto, featuring a fine cadenza written
by Suzanne Beia, and the Adagio of the D major work, are particularly
Nonetheless, Carl Stamitz was probably the greater composer
of the two, and certainly the greater violist. Hoffmeister was
more interested in publishing than performing. Stamitz's Concerto
consequently outshines Hoffmeister's pair, being not only more
virtuosic and more imaginatively scored, but also darker and
even visceral at times.
The Baltimore Chamber Orchestra perform on modern instruments,
but with appropriate restraint and elegance. Their music director
Markand Thakar guides them thoughtfully through the scores.
Though not especially challenging for the ensemble, they nevertheless
require just this kind of insightful reading to bring them to
Victoria Chiang's job is somewhat harder, with plenty of technical
demands, especially double-stopping in the Stamitz, that have
no chance, however, of catching her out. Her tone is attractively
rich, her intonation splendid and her fingers nimble.
Sound quality is good, warm and well balanced, with only very
faint traffic noise occasionally audible. The CD booklet is
slim but informative, with an essay by Allan Badley, who edited
both Hoffmeister concertos for performance. It seems that the
manuscript copies have come down through the generations in
less than tiptop condition. The one flaw in the production is
a lazy editing join in the cadenza of the finale of the Stamitz.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
See also review
by Brian Reinhart