“Rare Chamber Music Vol. II” = HEINRICH ANTON HOFFMANN: Grands Duos Concertants – Jansa Duo – Ars Produktion

by | Mar 29, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

“Rare Chamber Music Vol. II” = HEINRICH ANTON HOFFMANN: Grands Duos Concertants in A Major, Op. 5 No. 2; G Major, Op. 5 No. 3; E-flat Major, Op. 5 No. 6; F Major, Op. 6 No. 1 – Jansa Duo – Ars Produktion multichannel SACD ARS 38 071, 54:24 [Distr. by Qualiton] ***1/2:
Rare indeed. As a busy violinist and later music director serving with the theater orchestra of Frankfurt, Heinrich Anton Hoffmann found little time to compose and wrote precious little other than chamber music, mostly for strings. While he wrote two collections of string quartets, he seems to have lavished much of his time on producing duos, a total of fifteen in all. As far as I can tell, the current recording featuring four of those duos is the only recording of Hoffman’s music of any type available.
Born a few months before Beethoven, Hoffman outlived that master by a good fifteen years, long enough for his late music to shade into early Romanticism. However, the duets on offer here all come from the early nineteenth century, the Op. 5 Grands Duos Concertants appearing in 1803, the year of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. They’re not that earthshaking, of course, but they’re not reactionary either. While they don’t have the patented Beethoven drive and intensity, Hoffmann compensates for that with a fine strain of lyricism and a string player’s intimate knowledge of the instruments he’s writing for. This is music that makes virtuoso demands on the instrumentalists. As the “Concertant” designation implies, the two instruments almost compete with one another for the thematic material, in the manner of soloist and orchestra. As the Frenchified title also implies, this kind of piece was more popular in France than in the German-speaking countries, and Hoffman’s works show the influence of the French violin school, which would include composer-practitioners such as Pierre Rode and Rodolphe Kreutzer. Since these composers are getting a second listen now thanks to recordings, perhaps it’s Hoffman’s time to be heard as well.
Even if this is far from indispensable music, there’s certainly appeal in the fact that the lyrical and virtuosic strains in Hoffman’s writing are wedded to a full mastery of sonata form. Jansa Duo (Christine Rox, violin, and Klaus-Dieter Brandt, cello) have chosen duos that show off that mastery as well as a bit of variety in structure. The first two works are in the standard three movements; the last two are structured rather like Beethoven’s first two cello sonatas, with a long opening sonata-allegro followed by a contrasting movement: a rondo in the case of Op. 5 No. 6, a lengthy theme-and-variations movement for Op. 6 No. 1. This latter makes the strongest case of all for a mini-Hoffmann revival, if there are string duos out there who want to take the challenge.
It’s good that Jansa Duo took the challenge. The Duo was founded in 2006 to specialize in music from the Baroque to the early Romantic eras, with a special emphasis on worthy out-of-the-way music such as that of its namesake, nineteenth-century composer and violinist Leopold Jansa. The members of the Duo have sterling credentials—Christine Rox studied with a chamber music master, William Preucil, and Klaus-Dieter Brandt co-founded the important original-instruments group Musica Antiqua Köln—and significantly, they play this music not as if it were a museum piece but as if it has absolute currency. Their technical skill, which Hoffman often puts to the test, is never in question.
If I have any objection, it’s to Ars Produktion’s overly resonant recording, made at Kirche Honrath. This is a much-used venue (the Auryn Quartet records there) though it must be a hard place for engineers to tame. I think the Hoffmann pieces would have benefited by a cleaner recording in which the instrumental strands have more definition. But I guess you can’t have everything, and this recording does have a lot going for it otherwise, so it gets my recommendation.
–Lee Passarella

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