There will always be doubts and hot debates about the authenticity of Duo-Art
piano rolls but to my mind, the best solution is to listen with an open mind
and be rewarded my spell-binding musicianship free of controversy. Josef
Hofmann's legendary status has been espoused in many authentic recordings,
not least Ward Marston's exemplary series of recordings through his complete
oeuvre. This one is different, but if it is really Josef Hofmann, then it
sheds new light on an old school of thrilling piano interpretation.
The Lizst are items are thrilling with a heady but over fast Hungarian Rhapsody
that fairly whips the wind off your ears! The evocative 'Tarantella' is similarly
engaging, swift tantalizing and most of all, highly imaginative. The same
could be said of the pensive but beautiful 'Liebestraum', a lumbering giant
in Hofmann's hands. Some short items by Scarlatti (with Tausig arrangements)
are little more than curiosities as is the Schumann 'Contrabandista', taken
at a whacking pace, this is definitely Hoffmann at the peak of his powers.
The rest of the CD is handed over to Beethoven with a briskly exotic 'Turkish
March' and the delightful 'Rondo a Capriccio' precluding a rough and stormy
Sonata Op. 2 No. 3. This is early Beethoven but the performance sparkles
with uncontrollable zest, the Steinway Grand reproducing Hoffmann's playing
with mind numbing accuracy. It's a bit like having a ghost of the past playing
your piano in a stately room, the effect may be eerie but on this evidence
it is worthwhile nonetheless. There is a detailed biography of Hofmann together
with some fine photography and this enhances the issue's value no end. Not
recommended for purists, but for those who are ready, this Hofmann issue
is indeed richly rewarding.