Heinrich HOFMANN   (1842-1902)
Eine Schauspiels-Overture Op. 28 (1875) [8:26]
Symphony in E flat major Frithjof Op. 22 (1874) [40:18]
Ungarische Suite mit Benutzung ungarischer Nationalmelodien Op. 16 (1873) [20:28]
Philharmonscher Orchester Altenburg-Gera/Eric Solén
rec. Konzertsaal derBühnen der Stadt Gera, 30 November-3 December 2009. DDD
STERLING CDS 1097-2 [69:18]
 
I read from internet entries that this Thuringian composer was a pupil of Theodor Kullak, Eduard Grell, Siegfried Dehn and Richard Wüerst. Only Kullak’s name rings any sort of a bell with me though, knowing the heroic Sterling, we might yet be getting CDs sampling each of these composer’s works.
 
It seems that Hofmann’s sole symphony was one of the most frequently performed orchestral works in late 19th century Germany. If so its fall from celebrity must have been pretty vertiginous. Despite his operas Cartouche, Armin and Ännchen von Tharau, the symphony has mouldered until now in the dusty wasteland of those found wanting. In any event here it is to try its luck again and to be available for our and future generations to ‘taste and see’. All credit to Sterling and Bo Hyttner for reviving the symphony alongside two shorter works from the same decade.
 
First we hear Hofmann’s Eine Schauspiels-Overture. This almost immediately announces itself as a work written under Schumann’s smiling countenance. It’s pleasing and deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with such concert overtures as Mendelssohn’s Athalie and Ruy Blas. By coincidence his overtures also include Das Märchen von der schönen Melusine op.30. The four-movement Frithjof Symphony is in much the same stylistic region. It’s fresh and engaging, having an affinity with Mendelssohn’s Third and Fourth symphonies: it is certainly the product of a classical romantic who was partial to the occasional sprinkling of Wagnerian passion. The first movement leaps forward with Schumann-like athleticism, contrasting with the second’s more pensive, tremulous and grey-skied contemplation. The third movement is an intermezzo with writing for solo violin. The feeling is of a woodland interlude - some glade filled with benevolent sprites and birdsong. Then, at 2:54, more belligerent music cuts in to this Mendelssohnian Elysium. The closing pages are imposing with what sounds like a predictive touch of Sibelius’s Second Symphony. This Hofmann symphony is an entertaining piece of Germanic romantica and its loss to the world is just that. I would place it on the same shelf as, say, Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding and the Raff symphonies. The Hungarian Suite is in three movements with an intense Largo maestoso. There’s a reserved but really very effective Romanze. Uncannily enough, it reminds me of the relaxing aspects of Brahms’ dances and of Tchaikovsky in his most contented vein. In der Puszta is more lively and again occupies the very familiar territory of the Brahms Hungarian Dances and, guess what - the Suite was dedicated to Brahms.
 
The notes are by Christopher Fifield so we are assured of both substance and communicative excellence. That is what we get. Although we are given the nitty-gritty of the Frithjof saga the music does not need it and I would suggest little gain is to be taken by trying to relate the music moment by moment with the storyline but it’s there if that’s your thing.
 
I see the disc also bears, discreetly enough, the logo of the Genuin label so presumably this is a co-production. I wonder what this signifies.
 
I hope I have helped you decide whether to buy this disc. This is no symphonic Schumann, Bruckner or Brahms; not even a turbulent Draeseke. He is however a very capable and charming romantic with a fluent gift for companionable Mendelssohnian amiability.
 
Rob Barnett 

A very capable and charming romantic with a fluent gift for companionable Mendelssohnian amiability.