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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Sonata a quattro No.4 in B flat major [17.36]
Sonata a quattro No.5 in E flat major [14.09]
Sonata a quattro No.6 in D major [15.37]
Franz Anton HOFFMEISTER (1754-1812)
Solo Quartet No.3 in D major [13.36]
Solo Quartet No.4 in D major [14.15]
Minna Pensola (violin)
Antti Tikkanen (violin/viola)
Tuomas Lehto (cello)
Niek de Groot (double bass)
rec. Schauman Hall, Jacobstad (Pietarsaari), Finland, 2017
Hybrid SACD/CD Stereo/Multichannel 5.0; reviewed in surround
BIS SACD BIS2318 [76.38]

On this BIS SACD, these players complete a set begun on BIS2317 which has been reviewed by John Whitmore, with whom I mostly agree. Rossini's famous String Sonatas are once more the stars here and the lesser known Hoffmeister Solo Quartets again make up about a third of the disc. The recording date implies all ten works were completed at the same sessions in the rather elegant-looking concert hall within Campus Allegro, Jakobstad. I never cease to be amazed at the extent of quality music making that goes on all over Finland. Jakobstad (Pietarsaari in Finnish) is a small town on the Gulf of Bosnia about half way up the country and thus well away from the southern cities of Helsinki, Turku and Tampere. Bearing in mind there are far fewer people in the entire country than in London alone, I continue to assume they are all multi-tasking! If only a few more small UK towns, and larger ones, had concert venues like this.

As I noted in my review of all six of Rossini's String Sonatas on Decca Eloquence, Rossini started the life of a musician as an expert triangle player at the age of six, a harpsichordist by the age of 9 and able to play the violin, cello, piano and horn by the time he wrote these six sonatas at the grand old age of 12. They are amongst the more startling examples of precocity in a period that had included the famously precocious Mozart and, entirely within Rossini's own lifetime, Mendelssohn. The players he had available to him were two violinists, a cellist and a double-bassist, so that was how he scored these lively and tuneful movements. They are not merely skilful, they include the earliest example of a Rossini 'storm' in the final movement of No.6 and some sul ponticello effects in No.5. The mature Rossini was a touch embarrassed by these early works and refers to the 'doggish' playing to which they were subjected, including by himself - though less doggish, apparently, in his case. Compared to the Decca CDs noted above these are gentler performances and it could be argued they are less engaging. However, no one could doubt the performance quality (Niek de Groot is a fabulous double bassist) so it will be very much a matter of taste, and budget, which you prefer.

The presence of Hoffmeister's oddly named Solo Quartets is what separates this SACD out. Hoffmeister is a neglected composer and whilst quite a lot of his music is available on CD nothing in his output has achieved anything like popularity in modern times. He was typical of the many successful composers working in and around Vienna in the classical period. He wrote that which was required by fellow professionals and gifted amateur performers. He published the music of others, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Clementi were in his extensive published catalogue, and many composers of the day were his friends. The present pieces are scored for a string quartet but one where the first violin is replaced by the double bass, presumably the 'solo' of the title. This instrument came into its own during the period and there were plenty of skilled players, some even of virtuoso standard. Thus Hoffmeister's music was in demand.

These performances are of the highest standard and the rich, detailed BIS recording does them proud. Here I have to disagree with my colleague who suggested that the violin part inevitably draws the ear away from the virtuoso goings on in the double bass part. This instrument projects perfectly well provided one's player has a substantial bass capability. I use two subwoofers in my surround system, normally they are enlisted in the reproduction of exploding spacecraft and the rotors of helicopters etc., here they come into their own for much more musical reasons. I might find myself taking this excellent SACD along to audio shows to test out the musical bass response of silly-price systems and briefly pause the endless replay of more 'popular' fare! Excellent notes by Jean-Pascal Vachon.

Dave Billinge



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