Josef Hofmann, Vol. 2
Anton Rubinstein, the leading pianist and piano teacher of his generation, declared that his pupil Josef Hofmann was ''the greatest genius the world of music has ever seen''. If there was clearly some exaggeration in this—as a composer, Hofmann's concertante work Chromaticon reveals stylistic uncertainty, as can be heard here—his pianism called forth ecstatic praise, from his fellow professionals and the critics as well as the public. An outstanding child prodigy who at the age of ten had played Beethoven's First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic under von Bulow, he created a sensation with it a year later in New York, following it up with a series of so many concerts that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children stepped in. Fifty years later a celebrity of worldwide fame and now Director of the Curtis Institute, he gave a Golden Jubilee concert in the Metropolitan to which the whole available New York profession came; and a recording of this forms the bulk of the present issue. (This part has previously been heard on LP and was reviewed in these columns in September 1976.)
After the Academic Festival Overture there is a happily worded tribute to the pianist from Walter Damrosch, and then Reiner takes up the baton in a performance (reasonably recorded) of Rubinstein's Fourth Concerto—an unabashedly romantic work, if rather conventional in its material—which the audience cannot refrain from applauding boisterously after the first movement. Hofmann was noted for the colour, sparklingly clear virtuosity, refined tonal nuance and overall concept of his playing; and some of the pieces here admirably display those qualities—variety of colour, plus great vigour, in Chopin's A flat Ballade, a gently elegant rubato in the E flat Nocturne, great delicacy in the Op. 42 A flat Waltz. And of particular interest is the unexpected attention he focuses on inner counterpoints, notably in the Chopin Berceuse and Rachmaninov's G minor Prelude. But it has to be said that before an audience—which here irritatingly supplies a non-stop obbligato of coughing—Hofmann was tempted not only to overdo speeds (e.g. in the Minute Waltz) but, regrettably, to indulge in barnstorming (the Beethoven ''Turkish March'') and eccentricities (banged-out basses in the ''Butterfly'' Etude, a gratuitous final thump to the ''Minute'' Waltz, a 15-fold bell-like booming A flat at the end of the Berceuse).
New to this issue is a group of pieces, including another version of Chopin's Andante spianato e Grande Polonaise as well as a further performance of his own Chromaticon, taken from his penultimate New York appearance in 1945: the recording is shallower and more forward than before, and there is some noise from the original acetates. Here Hofmann, in Chopin's C minor Nocturne, pushes rubato to its limits, but his C major Mazurka has a fine rhythmic lift.'