Hoffmann: Miserere in B flat minor; Symphony in E flat

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COMPOSERS: Hoffmann
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Miserere in B flat minor; Symphony in E flat
PERFORMER: Camilla Nylund (soprano), Arantxa Armentia (mezzo-soprano), Lioba Braun (alto), Rodrigo Orrego (tenor), Johannes Schmidt (bass)South German Vocal Ensemble, Concerto Bamberg/Rolf Beck
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1148-2
It was ETA Hoffmann’s writings which so inspired Schumann and, rather differently, Offenbach. But Hoffmann (1776-1822) was a composer of note himself, graduating via occupied Poland to the German theatre and opera house, as evidenced by a clutch of stage works (notably Undine) which he added to the repertoire of his day.

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In Bamberg, Hoffmann left a durable mark, and in return these capable forces do him more than credit. Both works hold up well, though the youthful, spirited, Classical-style Symphony – played inspiredly, if just a little bass-heavy – is less fertile in ideas than the forty-minute choral work, where Hoffmann’s Mozartian fervour and keen grasp of earlier repertoire bear fruit.

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The Miserere, planned for a Catholic royal occasion, based on a reduced Psalm 50 and cast in some dozen sections, is an ideal textual vehicle for Hoffmann’s intelligent and imaginative word-setting. All the soloists do well, though early on the slightly operatic alto and tenor seem just a little portentous, and one quintet sounds earnest rather than penitential. The bass is clearest but weakest; the mezzo is most rewarding. Beck’s choir sings with genuine feeling, the adagios never get moribund and the orchestra’s ample bowing lends full body and a stately forward momentum. Woodwind obbligato and Baroque-style punctuating brass are strong, and the warm Koch acoustic enhances all. Latin and German texts only are given; the German notes are more instructive than the English. Roderic Dunnett