WORKS: Das Kreuz an der Ostsee (excerpts); Arlequin; Der Trank der Unsterblichkeit Overture; Liebe und Eifersucht Overture
PERFORMER: German Chamber Academy, Neuss/Johannes Goritzki
CATALOGUE NO: 999 606-2
ETA Hoffmann wasn’t just a major figure in German literature, the best music-critic of Beethoven’s time and a peerless inspirer of music in others. He was also a remarkable composer in his own right. His opera Undine is seldom heard but has never lacked distinguished admirers (they included Wagner); and the more one discovers of Hoffmann’s long-neglected output, the more of a phenomenon he becomes. The works on this disc, unperformed for nearly 200 years (indeed only Arlequin had ever been played before these recordings, and that was in 1809) demonstrate yet more clearly that this is no amateur composer, but a pioneer of most fertile imagination.
In fact Hoffmann the composer is a kind of Classical-era Busoni, his works firmly based on post-Mozartian architecture and early-Beethoven dynamism, yet continually reaching out for the new colourings, effects and emotional shadings of the musical Romanticism that was subsequently inspired more by Hoffmann’s fantastic fictions. Arlequin (itself a Busonian subject) is a scintillatingly tuneful sequence of short dances and character-pieces; the two Singspiel overtures are colourful and accomplished, Der Trank der Unsterblichkeit featuring much ‘Turkish’ percussion. But the fiery excerpts from Hoffmann’s incidental music to a play about crusading Teutonic Knights (listen to their proto-Wagnerian march, composed 1805!) impress most strongly with their symphonic scale and drama. First-rate, patently enthusiastic performances in excellent sound. Calum MacDonald