HOFMANN Piano Works
Josef Hofmann was one of the very greatest pianists of the so-called Golden Age. He was also an inventor (when he died in 1957 he had more than 70 patents to his name, including one for the car windscreen wipers we use today) and composer. Little of his music has made it on to disc, so this release, whatever its shortcomings (and they are few) sheds a welcome extra light on one of the most naturally gifted musicians in history. Hofmann’s most recorded work is ‘Kaleidoskop’, the last of his four Charakterskizzen composed in 1908 and dedicated to Godowsky. It’s a dazzling tour de force demanding extreme agility and imaginative tonal colouring. The Ukrainian pianist Artem Yasynskyy (b Donetsk, 1988) takes it at the more measured tempo (4'51") of Shura Cherkassky (Hofmann’s pupil, for whom it was a favourite encore) rather than of Hofmann himself (4'25" live in Casimir Hall, 1938), let alone (the too fast?) Hamelin (4'14" – Hyperion, 12/01). Yasynskyy, with exemplary articulation, phrases the piece beautifully. The other three movements (‘Vision’, ‘Jadis’ and ‘Nenien’) have been recorded only once before (Fabiana Biasini in 2005 on Edition Hera); and if I have devoted this much space to Charakterskizzen it is because, of the seven works presented here, it encapsulates Hofmann at this best and most original.
There are three early mazurkas (two written when Hofmann was 10) which are charming Chopin pastiches; there is a very effective Etude for the left hand alone (indebted to Blumenfeld’s and none the worse for that) and an attractive four-movement Sonata (modelled on Chopin’s but more Schumannesque in some of its figurations). Finally we have the premiere recording of the substantial (16'06") single-movement Theme with Variations and Fugue from 1892 dedicated to Moszkowski, with whom Hofmann studied briefly. Lacking the individuality of Charakterskizzen, it nevertheless shows Hofmann’s mastery of form and fugal writing at the age of 16.
Yasynskyy, despite the mild thump of the sustaining pedal, is well recorded, equal to the giddy technical demands and, most importantly, with the compelling advocacy needed to show these neglected works in the best possible light.