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The Complete Josef Hofmann - Volume 9
Josef Hofmann (piano)
rec. 1895-1945
MARSTON 520582 [75:49 + 77:02]

With Volume 9, record producers Ward Marston and Gregor Benko end their Hofmann journey. It began back in the 1990s, with the first four volumes issued on the VAI label. Marston Records took up the reins with Volume 5. Avid enthusiasts have had a longer wait than usual for this latest release. The producers had high hopes of unearthing some hitherto undiscovered broadcasts, but sadly their efforts were thwarted. At the end of the booklet they include a wish list of broadcasts, known to have been recorded, but as yet have not come to light. The longed-for gem is a 1936 Buenos Aires recital, offering such riches as a Beethoven Op. 110 and a Chopin Second Sonata, Op. 35. We'll have to keep our fingers crossed.

In order to retain the 2 CD format, a disc of interviews, conducted for the most part by Gregor Benko, some dating back to the 1970s, has been included. These have been painstakingly edited to bolster their interest and impact. Also included are newly remastered transfers from Julius Block's wax cylinders. These were issued several years ago in a 3 CD Marston set entitled “Dawn of Recording”. This has resulted in a slight improvement in sound quality, we are told, though I'm not able to comment on the difference as I'm not familiar with the original set. Also included is a superior sounding “Moonlight Sonata” and Chopin selection from the “Cadillac Hour”. Originally issued on volume 6, this new source derives from a transcription disc of the “Radio Corporation of America” discovered by Marc van Bemmel.

The recordings here span Hofmann's entire performing career from the Julius Block cylinders of 1895-6 to the 1945 Bell Telephone Hour film of 30 July 1945. Although the announcements are difficult to make out in the Block cylinders, the playing emerges from the swish with rhythmic exactitude and stunning virtuosity. The 1911 Schubert-Tausig Marche Militaire begins barely audibly, but emerges from the dim recesses making it's compelling presence felt. The Rachmaninoff C sharp minor Prelude, Hofmann's calling card, is rhetorically eloquent. Both of these recordings are Columbias. There follow two Brunswicks, a couple of delightful and beautifully articulated Scarlatti sonatas in Tausig arrangements and a Wagner-Brassin Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre, displaying some diaphanous arpeggiated fingerwork.

It's pleasing to have a complete sonata in the form of the "Moonlight" by Beethoven. The opening movement is particularly fine, never becoming over-indulgent. The finale is a breathtaking tour-de-force. The Chopin Waltz in A flat Op. 42 doesn't quite match the fluency of the three RCA test recordings which appear in Volume 5, set down a year earlier, and the "Minute" waltz is the fastest version I've ever heard. This selection derives from a “Cadillac Hour” broadcast from New York, 15 March 1936.

The last recordings coincide with the pianist's years of decline, when his career was sadly drawing to a close and his excessive alcohol consumption was having a deleterious effect both on his personal life and his playing. Fortunately when these last two selections were taped, Hofmann was sober. The Rachmaninoff Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 has force and power. The chords are superbly voiced, and the bass notes resound with burnished sonority. An abridged version of the Rondo from Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto follows, preceded by an announcement. What a pity were are not treated to the full work!

I found the taped interviews very enlightening, providing much information on the character of Hofmann. I particularly enjoyed Jorge Bolet's interview from April 1987. He found the experience of hearing Hofman play Beethoven's Op. 111 so overwhelming, he could never bring himself to learn the work.  He singles out Hofmann's gamut of sonorities and vast range of dynamics as distinguishing features in his recordings. The pianist Thaddeus Sadlowski, in a 1989 interview, is an engaging and humorous character who heard Hofmann play many times. He had the opportunity on one occasion to play Hofmann's piano, housed in Steinway Hall. He remarks on the fast action and clean sound. He comments on the pianist's phenomenal memory and enormous repertoire. Hofmann's drinking and inebriation also make their way into the conversation. Nela Rubinstein, who married Arthur Rubinstein in 1932, relates her memories of both of Hofmann's wives. The final interview from 1967 with Anton Hofmann, the pianist’s eldest son, offers some family life perspective.

Production values are, as always with Marston Records, first class. Gregor Benko, Hofmann authority, responsible for unearthing and publishing the pianist's recordings, has contributed the excellent liner notes, which are accompanied by an array of fascinating and well-produced photographs. Ward Marston's expert transfers and remasterings extract as much detail as possible from challenging source material, revealing the recordings in their best possible light.

Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [75:49]
Contredanse A, No. 3 from Le Bal, Op. 14 [1:22]
Contredanse B, No. 3 from Le Bal, Op. 14 [1:29]
24 December 1895 (o.s.), Julius Block cylinder 139, Moscow
Announcement translated from German: [Unintelligible] by Anton Rubinstein performed by Josef Hofmann, as a token of remembrance for Herr Julius Block in Moscow, on 24 December 1895.
Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre [3:17]
10 February 1896 (o.s.), Julius Block cylinder 140, Moscow
Announcement translated from German: Performed by Josef Hofmann on 10 February 1896 in Moscow.
Song Without Words, Op. 38, No. 5, “Passion” [2:17]
date unknown, Julius Block cylinder 137, Russia
Marche Militaire [4:26]
4 April 1911, (30750-1) A5302 Columbia, New York
Prelude, Op. 3 No. 2, C-sharp Minor [3:22]
4 April 1911, (30747-1) A5302 Columbia, New York
Pastorale, D Minor, K. 9 and Capriccio, K. 20, E Major [4:52]
10 April 1923, (X 10353) 50035 Brunswick, New York
Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre [4:08]
25 April 1923, (X 10474) 50035 Brunswick, New York
Cadillac Hour, 15 March 1936, New York
Announcements [0:42]
Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2, “Moonlight” [12:29]
Nocturne in F-sharp, Op. 15, No. 2 [3:46]
Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42 [4:04]
Waltz in D-flat, Op. 64, No. 1 “Minute” [1:44]
Bell Telephone Hour Film, 30 July 1945, New York
Introduction [1:04]
Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 3, No. 2 [3:06]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73, “Emperor”
III. Rondo (abridged) [0:33]
Charles Rosen Interviews [5:02]
1999 and September 2002
Constance Keene interview [9:55]
September 2002

CD 2 [77:02]
Jorge Bolet interview [14:42]
9 April 1987
Glenn Gould interview [0:50]
Witold Lutosławski interview [0:48]
Rudolph Ganz interview [3:34]
Ruth Steinway interview [9:18]
20 November 1975
Tadeusz Sadlowski interview [6:07]
13 March 1989
Gian Carlo Menotti interviews [4:45]
21 April and 2 November 1987
Aniela Rubinstein interview [3:26]
1 April 1991
Nadia Reisenberg interview [11:00]
16 November 1975
Irene Wolf interview [6:57]
11 November 1975
Dagmar Godowsky and Betty Hofmann rehearse [1:55]
ca. 1937
Anton Hofmann interview [13:40]
February 1967



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