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Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
String Sonata No.1 in G [11:35]
String Sonata No.2 in A [11:52]
String Sonata No.3 in C 12:50]
Franz Anton HOFFMEISTER (1754-1812)
Solo Quartet No.1 in D [13:41]
Solo Quartet No.2 in D 17:21]
Minna Pensola (violin) Antti Tikkanen (violin/viola) Tuomas Lehto (cello) Niek de Groot (double bass)
rec. 2017, Schaumann Hall, Jakobstad, Finland
BIS BIS-2317 SACD [68:33]

The works gathered here hail from two different sets of string quartets: the four solo quartets by Franz Anton Hoffmeister and Gioacchino Rossini’s six String Sonatas. Rossini, quite remarkably, composed his sonatas at the age of 12. In his original version he left out the viola and gave the part instead to a double bass purely on the basis that he had a double bass player at his disposal when he wrote the works. The double bass is used in a conventional role with the occasional florid passage of virtuosity thrown in for good measure. The sonatas were first published in an arrangement for traditional string quartet and are often heard performed by string orchestras. This recording is of the original version. Unlike the young Rossini, Hoffmeister gave the double bass a far more important role in his ensemble, letting it replace the first violin. The double bass player is the leader of the quartet. On the present recording, Niek de Groot has edited the score of the first quartet, which is here recorded for the first time.

The famous 1960s Argo LPs by Neville Marriner put the Rossini sonatas firmly on the map for many collectors and those performances, reissued on CD, still sound as sparkling and fresh as ever. For the string orchestra version, that is still a top recommendation. I hope that this BIS issue is volume 1 and that the other 3 sonatas will be released further down the line. The players clearly love the music and perform it with great affection. The resonant acoustic fleshes out the sound without losing clarity. This is very intimate music making and it’s almost like opening a door and listening to a private and personal event taking place. I particularly like the way that Minna Pensola leads on 1st violin with small twists and turns in the phrasing and a scrupulous attention to dynamics. Although I would never get tired of listening to Marriner this is a thoroughly enjoyable set of performances. It’s hard to believe that Rossini was a 12 year old when he composed this music. He clearly had the ability to write good tunes (almost with operatic overtones) even as a very young man. Without plumbing any depths this is well crafted music with catchy, bubbly tunes that you can’t get out of your head. I can’t be quite as enthusiastic about the Hoffmeister Solo Quartets. As well written as the quartets clearly are, there’s not a lot that is especially memorable to be heard.

The most memorable thing about this recording is the level of virtuosity displayed by Niek de Groot and the excellent support he gets from his fellow players. I have an issue, however, with Hoffmeister’s use of the double bass as the leader. Putting Mr de Groot’s virtuosity to one side, the ear is constantly drawn to the bright timbre of the 2nd violin, even when the double bass is playing the lead part. The BIS recording is very natural, but the double bass doesn’t really project and catch the ear as it should. That is meant as a criticism of Hoffmeister’s use of the double bass and not of the musicians or the engineers. In summary, this is a lovely disc, well played and naturally recorded, but maybe the Hoffmeister works would be more appreciated by double bass aficionados.

John Whitmore



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