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David W Moore
American Record Guide, July 2011

Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812) was a quite prolific classical composer whose music has only been intermittently recorded so far. It isn’t particularly serious in mood, but it is well worth exploring. Duka is a remarkable player with a lightness of touch that must have seemed even more remarkable in 1980 when these pieces were recorded.

…I would recommend this disc for the Hoffmeister alone.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online., March 2011

If the violin is the most prominent solo string instrument, its opposite, surely, is the double bass, for which front-and-center roles are very few indeed. Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812) was one of the few composers before Bottesini to give the bass a chance to show its full capabilities. Hoffmeister’s Double Bass Quartets do this by simply replacing the first violin with a bass—and expecting the bassist to lead the quartet, just as a violinist usually would. This results in works that initially sound top-heavy but whose sonic world soon seems simply like an alternative to that of the traditional string quartet, with somewhat more “oomph” but little sense of being either lumbering or dragged down by the weight of the lead instrument. The other major change that Hoffmeister makes in his quartets involves the cello, which is relegated to a singularly minor role, most likely to avoid having a second low string instrument counter the effects of the bass to any significant degree. Unfortunately, the novelty of Hoffmeister’s quartets wears off quickly, since the music itself is foursquare and not especially distinguished—it is solid stuff, but not very inspired. The fact that all three quartets on the new Naxos CD (which is a re-release of performances recorded as long ago as 1980 and 1984) are in the same key, D major, reinforces the monotony of the music. Everything is quite well played, but any way you look at it, Hoffmeister is a minor composer. Not so Schubert: the arrangement for double bass of his Arpeggione Sonata, which these days is usually played on viola or cello, is quite well done. Norbert Duka not only did the arrangement but also produces in the performance a sound of considerable subtlety, lovely tone quality and (especially in the Adagio) great emotional warmth. This is both the finest music on the CD and the most interesting interpretation—listeners will have to decide whether the excellent Schubert, added to the novelty of the Hoffmeister works, will provide enough reason to own the disc.

MusicWeb International, February 2011

Leaving aside his sixty-plus symphonies and nearly fifty concertos, the German-born composer Franz Hoffmeister also wrote a massive amount of chamber music, including well over two hundred duets, thirty-odd quintets and more than a hundred quartets. For once Naxos have been slow to champion a minor composer: their only previous CD of Hoffmeister’s music was of his op. 14 string quartets back in 2003—reviewed here.

Hoffmeister’s three quartets were written for double-bass (replacing the standard first violin), violin, viola and cello. It is rather unfortunate that the three quartets performed here are all in D major, making an element of sameness unavoidable. Nevertheless, all three works are supremely melodious and entertaining, most reminiscent in texture and mood of the quartets of the slightly older Luigi Boccherini, with a sprinkling of Joseph Haydn. The liner-notes provide adequate technical description of the individual movements. Suffice to say here that the quartets are full of effervescence and a cheerfulness undiminished by the darker tones of the double-bass.

Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata D.821 will be familiar to many, albeit in the versions for cello or viola that are normally heard nowadays. Hungarian double-bassist Norbert Duka has produced an arrangement for his own period instrument which not only sounds very convincing, but almost seems to add further depth to Schubert’s original music.

Curiously for a new release, the soloists are all now thirty years older than they were when they went into the studio—these are rather old recordings, originally issued on other labels but now re-issued by Naxos. Dating back to 1980, the Hoffmeister quartets in particular belong to the very first wave of DDD recordings. No indication is given as to whether they have been re-mastered, but the sound is decent enough in any case. Though the biographical notes do not make it especially clear, the soloists do all appear to be still alive, some into their seventies, to enjoy this republication of their worthy labours from a different era.

In sum, these are by no means important works, but for historical novelty and general attractive musicianship, this CD is worth any music-lover’s consideration.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

Though today we hear little of the composer, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, it was to him that Mozart sent begging letters. How fortunes have changed. They were almost direct contemporaries, Hoffmeister hardly less industrious as he created a catalogue of compositions that included some fifty symphonies, sixty concertos, and sundry pieces of chamber and instrumental music. It included a series of double bass quartets where the bass replaces the leading violin, and was thus expected to play the solo line with singing portamento. Thematically the three quartets contain nothing to write home about, but in every case they are pleasurable, the Second and Fourth being in four movements, the added Minuet coming second. Though difficult enough, these are not the virtuoso showpieces that we find in the works by Bottesini. As an ‘encore’, Norbert Duka has made an adaptation of Schubert’s sonata for the now long forgotten instrument, the Arpeggione. Now known as a work for cello, where it sits rather awkwardly on the fingerboard, it is even more uncomfortable on the double bass. Hungarian by birth, Duka’s mature studies took place in Germany where he has established a major career as a soloist and the principal bass in orchestra of the German Opera Berlin. Throughout the Hoffmeister his intonation is a cut above our expectations, his unnamed instrument producing a most appealing tone. The challenges of the Schubert is probably one step too far, but that equally applies to many cello recordings. He is joined in the quartets by other principals from major German orchestras. The recordings date back to the 1980’s, the Hoffmeister available for many years on the Schwann label. Good, honest and well balanced sound.

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