Simon Fuchs

Franz Anton Hoffmeister: Notturnos (Quintets) for Oboe, Violin, Two Violas, Horn & Bassoon

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The repertory of recordings dealing with Classical-era figures beyond the mighty triumvirate of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven continues to grow, and this attractive Super Audio disc of quintets by the Viennese composer and publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister illuminates several stylistic trends of the period and, as much now as it did in its own day, provides pleasant cocktail-party listening. The word "notturno" in the late eighteenth century simply meant a work suited to performance in the evening; it might just as easily be called a divertimento or serenade. Hoffmeister's pieces are in either three (fast-slow-fast) or five (with second- and fourth-movement minuets) movements, both common enough patterns, and both less rigorous than those found in works called quartets or quintets. The instrumental combinations here may seem odd, but they're actually typical of the variety of the period. Three notturni are for oboe, violin, two violas, and bassoon, while two others are for the more curious but still very idiomatic group of oboe, horn, two violas, and bassoon. Hoffmeister's writing for these groups is assured, as is his handling of what would become known as sonata form; these pieces have a formal clarity and balance that show the mark of High Classicism.

Given the stress liner-note writer Otto Hagedorn lays on Hoffmeister's stylistic and business relationships with Mozart and other composers, in fact, it might have been nice to know when these works were written. Since Hoffmeister acted as his own publisher, it can't have been too hard to find out. The sound is very close-up, with lots of clicking of oboe keys, but the instruments are nicely balanced, and the whole thing has a lot of period grace. A useful disc for both libraries and casual listeners.

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