Notes and Editorial Reviews
Have you ever heard of Anton Ferdinand Titz? I must confess that I hadn’t. My loss, entirely. But not entirely my fault, since Titz has only recently been rediscovered by musicians and recording labels. It was as recently as 2004 that the Russian orchestra Pratum Integrum released a CD that was announced as “a discographical happening: the first world recordings of the works of Anton Ferdinand Titz.” (Caro Mitis SACD CM 0022004). That recording received the prestigious Diapason d’Or, a very auspicious rebirth indeed. So the Hoffmeister Quartet had a tough act to follow.
Born in 1742 in Nuremberg, Titz (also spelled Tietz, Ditz, Dietz, or Dietzch) was a violinist and composer, who, after having achieved a fine reputation in
Vienna, established a flourishing career in St. Petersburg, where he ended up being hired by Catherine II to be a court musician. He exerted a strong influence on Russian musical life, and his style both as interpreter and as composer was so appreciated that he had the highest salary in the Imperial Court. His introverted personality and the mental illness that plagued the last years of his life were actually an added attraction to a public that was beginning to be fascinated by the romantic image of the suffering artist.
Titz’s string quartets are reputedly the first works of this genre composed in Russia. With a style akin to Haydn’s, and anticipating that of Brahms, they have nonetheless an original flavor of their own, and are works that certainly deserve to enter the standard repertoire. Very fresh and beautiful, classically Viennese, but already tinged with Romantic colors, much like the Bohemian music of the same period, Titz’s works skillfully alternate vigor and grace, and are suffused with the contrast of gravitas and coarse humor so typical of Eastern Europe.
When a group plays well, its members give the impression not that they made the right choices, but rather that they made the only choices possible. This is precisely the case here: the Hoffmeisters comprise an excellent ensemble, well matched in sound, ability, and ideas. Their affinity with the music is immediately obvious, and they play with contagious enthusiasm, displaying musical flexibility and emotional intensity. Their sound is round and blended, inflections are perfectly administered, there is ample variety in articulation and the many changes in character are always well defined. They take advantage of all the Slavic touches in the writing—everything even faintly Russian/Hungarian sounding or folk-inclined is milked to the maximum—with maximum results. Each measure reveals the attention to detail that comes from an intellectual comprehension of the text, but also from a passionate approach, and completely “sells” this composer to the listener. Because of this musical awareness, the music never sounds like second-rate Haydn but rather like first-rate Titz.
Lest I forget, the CD is extremely well recorded and produced, and the liner notes, by Ernst Stöckl and Klaus Harer, are informative and stylishly penned. This one goes straight to my Want List.
FANFARE: Laura Rónai
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