The Complete Josef Hofmann Vol 9
>‘Josef Hofmann was the greatest pianist I ever heard. I thought that when I was six. I still think that now.’ Charles Rosen, speaking in 1999 at the age of 72. You have to sit up and listen to a pianist and musician as distinguished and discriminating as he states: ‘I was lucky. I did hear Hofmann play the music for which he was most famous and for which he was most admired. It’s something I value in my experience of piano-playing more than anything else. He was amazing.’
Rosen is one of 13 interviewees included on this presumably final volume of all known recorded Hofmann performances; the producers live in hope that a live 1936 Buenos Aires concert broadcast on the radio is extant … somewhere. The quotes from those who knew him and heard him at his best (and worst) are testaments of a unique and unanimously admired artist (Claudio Arrau was the only pianist Rosen recalls disliking Hofmann’s playing). That said, there is little on these two discs that is new in terms of unpublished or recently discovered studio or live concert material. Two of the four legendary cylinder recordings made in Moscow in 1895 and 1896 are of pieces by Anton Rubinstein, Hofmann’s teacher who had died only a year earlier. All four appeared on Marston’s mesmerising ‘Dawn of Recording’ set and are here republished, using new pitch stabilisation technology, in slightly improved sound. There are unpublished alternative takes of four acoustic titles; the utterly captivating Moonlight Sonata (1936 Cadillac Hour broadcast) is heard here in a new source.
The enthralling booklet, with a fine selection of previously unseen Hofmann photos, contains an uncharacteristic error in the track numbering for disc 1, which finishes with interviews from Charles Rosen (quoted above) and Constance Keene. All of disc 2 is of further interviews, most of them riveting, revealing and intimate, not least those with Tadeusz Sadlkowski and Hofmann’s son Anton.
Anything we have of Josef Hofmann is invaluable but in truth there is nothing here that adds to our knowledge of him as a pianist. Of Hofmann the man, the flawed and, it seems, unhappy human being (at least in the latter part of his life), we learn a very great deal.