Norbert Duka

Franz Anton Hoffmeister: Double Bass Quartets 2, 3 & 4; Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata

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These "double bass quartets" of Franz Anton Hoffmeister, a Viennese composer and publisher well known to both Mozart and Beethoven, are not written simply for one member each of the string family from violin to double bass; the bass is explicitly conceived of as a replacement for the first violin. That might seem an awkward order, but the charm of the music resides in the variety of elegant solutions Hoffmeister finds for the problems this configuration causes. The double bass, expertly handled by Hungarian-born Norbert Duka, duets with the second violin, takes solo passages, and segues seamlessly from one to the other, as well as executing more unusual effects: hear the finale of the Double Bass Quartet No. 3 in D major (track 7), where the other instruments drop out, "Farewell" Symphony-style, and leave the double bass alone at the end. The booklet notes (in English and German) do not indicate the date of composition of these pieces. They're not lost masterpieces; all three of the double bass quartets are in D major, and Hoffmeister's handling of the instruments is greater than his melodic invention. The disc is rounded off with a double bass version of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, D. 821, which somehow plods (the recording was made four years later than the Hoffmeister, in a different place). But double bass players and fans of the Viennese Classical style will enjoy these ingenious works. Originally recorded in 1980 and 1984 by two different labels, these performances were compiled by Naxos on a single disc in 2010; the early digital sound is a bit flat but adequate for what the musicians are trying to do.

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