Hoffmann: Dirna

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COMPOSERS: Hoffmann
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Dirna
PERFORMER: Angelika Krautzberger, Martin Herrmann, Werner Klockow; Cantemus Chamber Choir, Neuss German Chamber Academy/Johannes Goritzki
CATALOGUE NO: 999 607-2
ETA Hoffmann lived from 1776 to 1822, dates that place him neatly inside the span of his idol Beethoven, and indeed the best moments of this melodrama reveal the greater composer’s influence. Though he wrote much for the theatre and is best remembered for his opera Undine, Hoffmann – the Hoffmann of Offenbach’s Tales – enjoyed more significance as a literary figure. Even so, the text for Dirna, composed in 1809 during his time in Bamberg in the service of Count Julius von Soden, is not his own, but based by Soden himself on ‘a true Indian story’. The grislier details of the original tale, in which a dishonoured woman is forced to kill her children before submitting herself to death by molten lead, were softened with a fairy-tale ending featuring a deus ex machina appearance of the Great Mogul.

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This work pre-dates much of the 19th-century taste for exoticism, and there is none in Hoffmann’s rich though hardly dramatic score; the chorus of priests is actually less Brahminsian than Brahmsian in its anticipation. This recording of the reconstructed score, made around the time of the first modern performance in 1998, benefits from the sympathetic conducting of Johannes Goritzki; but with placid delivery by the three actors – melodrama consists of a dramatic text and an underlay of music – it hardly makes a compelling case for this fascinating genre. John Allison