Academy of Music
5 May 2013
“The . . . concert was, of course, well attended. Mr. Richard Hoffman, whose public appearances are far too few, played a Beethoven concert [sic] with exquisite grace. The orchestral pieces were Haydn’s Symphony in E flat and overtures by Berlioz and Bargiel.”
“Every one feels insensibly and instantly the charm of freshness which pervades every phase of Haydn’s music. It is the melodious out-pouring of a joyful spirit of a pure heart and a healthy intellect. There is not one morbid thought in all his writings. Music to him, was the voice of nature, nature to him was all beauty, and his beautiful spirit he breathed forth in song, which will never die so long as pure, unsophisticated music inspiration continues to be recognized as an element in art. It cannot be denied that Haydn’s music sounds small and thin, when contrasted with the massively and elaborately instrumented works of Beethoven and modern writers, but if we examine the works themselves, and observe the beauty of form, the perfect symmetry, the flow of rich, pure melody, the graceful consecutiveness of thought, and the profound, yet natural modulations and attendant harmonies, we are compelled to admit that while the sounding pomp and thunder of modern instrumentation serves many a writer, as a rail to conceal paucity of ideas, Haydn’s simpler, though beautiful, orchestration, serves to develop the boundless wealth of his inspiration.
The overture, ‘Medea,’ is a brilliant piece of instrumentation, intelligibly descriptive, but is not marked by much individuality. Reminiscences of Mendelssohn and Weber are very prominent, and we doubt very much if it will stand the test of time.
Berlioz’s overture, ‘Le Carnaval Romain’ is quite indescribable. It is a carnival of sounds, wild, fugitive, and fantastic, but it is wonderfully instrumented, full of color and variety.
The third concerto by Beethoven, for piano, and orchestra, was played in a masterly manner by Mr. Richard Hoffman. Something beyond mere digital dexterity is demanded in attacking one of Beethoven’s concertos. In them we find an intellectual breadth and grandeur, combined with extraordinary simplicity, most difficult of all to comprehend in the full scope and to interpret in the true spirit. The style must be broad yet delicately refined and grave, and passionate, and impetuous, without extravagance or strained expression.
It was neither in the Allegro, nor the Largo, nor the Rondo that he excelled, but in the thorough comprehension of the whole. The Largo, of course, is the most marked with the grander attribution of Beethoven, and is its breadth of manner, simplicity of design and profundity of expression, we recognize the master’s mind. To this Mr. Hoffman rendered perfect justice. His touch, firm and solid, gave out the subject with the fine portamento of a well trained voice, at once noble and expressive. His execution light, crisp and fluent, responded to his sensitive touch, and rendered the expressive fioriture, with that fine intelligent phrasing which gave the true meaning of the author. The Allegro and Rondo were marked by the same intelligent reading, and the same perfection of execution. The executive difficulties in which none of the tricks of modern pianism can be used, were performed without a blemish and without effort, and the scale passages rushing up with headlong velocity, and terminating suddenly to recommence the theme, were executed with an aplomb, which could only be accomplished by a technique under perfect control. The cadenza in the Allegro was a fine piece of phrasing, of musical execution, and a brilliant example of manual dexterity. The performance as a whole, so full of the finest artistic coloring, has never been excelled in the city, and certainly Beethoven has never had on this continent so intelligent, so sympathetic, and so faithful an interpreter. Mr. Hoffman played on one of Chickering’s fine Grands, which responded fully to all his demands.
The Leiderkranz Society sang two selections, one for eight voices by Palestrina, a wonderful piece of solid harmony, and the other a Credo, by Liszt. They sang accurately, but the voices were not well balanced and in the Credo, especially, the orchestra completely overpowered the vocal strength. Liszt’s Credo is an unintelligible rigmarole. It is sound (and very far from pleasant sound) without sense, with here and there a flash of reason, the whole dignified and apologized for by splendid instrumentation. It is of the ‘Music of the Future’ school, and should never be introduced into our insane asylums, or the mildly mad would become raving maniacs. Had such a composition been offered by a resident composer it would have been rejected by the whole Society.
The performance of the orchestra pieces reflects the highest credit upon the conductor, Mr. Carl Bergmann, and the members of the orchestra.”
“The overture to ‘Medea,’ written by a comparatively young and not widely known composer, is in every respect a noble work. The influence of Schumann is not to be mistaken in the composition; but it is not so conspicuous as to be detrimental to its originality. This overture hears witness to the genial talent, and studious cultivation of its author, and leads us to expect much that is remarkable from him. The Liederkranz sang badly on this occasion, and the director of the society did not appear to have the faintest idea of the spirit of Palestrina’s music. Again, Liszt’s Credo would have gained much more, had the director’s baton had been given to the hand of Mr. Bergmann. At least, we might then have had some inkling of what Liszt intended when he wrote that Credo; at present we are in total darkness on the subject.”
Liszt’s work is rather complex and difficult to perform. In order to hear it the way it is meant to sound, it is advised to have it sung by first-class and well-practiced singers rather than by dilettantes.
Bargiel’s overture was interesting. He used to be influenced by Schumann; however, with Medea, he clearly presents us with an independent style and an efficient work.
Richard Hoffmann (piano) performed with skill and sophisticated taste.