of the Mozart concerti are nothing new:
the early concerti, in which the winds
play strictly a supporting role, can
be, and have been, performed with just
piano and string quintet. And, as we
know, the expressive power of the composer's
music remains unchallenged through all
sorts of arrangements - by concert bands,
guitar ensembles ... probably the Swingle
But Hummel had to go
a step further in these transcriptions
- "commissioned by English publishers,"
as per Rüdiger Herrmann's vague
assertion in the booklet - not only
by amplifying Mozart's original solo
part with embellishments and fillers,
but by actively rethinking the pieces.
The Classical concerto, which assumes
an underlying dramatic opposition between
soloist and orchestra, serves rather
different aesthetic goals from chamber
music, which presumes a parity among
its collaborators. Hummel's reworkings
thus involve a structural change,
especially in the elaborate sonata and
rondo forms of the outer movements.
The slow movements, simpler and more
intrinsically chamber-like, pose no
problem. Does the music survive such
a basic alteration?
Based on these two
of Hummel's seven transcriptions, the
answer is a Scottish verdict: "not proven."
KV 491 comes off quite nicely, actually,
with a little help from the players.
The ritornello's opening phrases are
really hushed, the better to set off
the ensuing "tutti", for which,
after all, there aren't any more players
to add. The piano, the violin, and (less
frequently) the flute variously take
the lead, making for invigorating timbral
contrasts. Of course, the piano has
to fill in the fake tuttis, continuo-style,
but it's not unusual for the instrument
to dominate in Classical chamber music.
The overall effect is quite pleasing,
like an original quartet that just happens
to stop for piano cadenzas at crucial
moments. If you want to nitpick, the
violin's scrubbing tremolos sound out
of place in a chamber setting.
Unfortunately, KV 365,
which appears first on the disc, really
doesn't work at all. Perhaps this concerto
was a poor choice for transcription:
the piano suffers the "double whammy"
of having to assume two solo
parts, as well as deputizing for the
missing orchestra. Thus, after the opening
ritornello, the arrival of the original
concertante material should somehow
sound like a new musical "paragraph";
but here the piano, which has, force
majeure, dominated the ritornello,
continues immediately, and monotonously.
Similarly, after the finale's nifty
cadenza, when our ears crave some change
of color or texture, the piano, like
the Energizer Bunny, keeps going and
going. In truth, Hummel might have flexed
his imagination a bit harder: the flute
part, which could have incorporated
some of the thematic writing, comprises
mostly sustained supporting tones.
are no reflection on the fine work of
pianist Fumiko Shiraga or her attentive
partners. I enjoyed Shiraga's pearly,
sparkling articulation of running figures,
and the quiet dignity with which she
projects the cantabile themes.
On the debit side, her tone hardens
in the topmost range, and big chords
can turn clangorous. Still, I'd like
to hear her in full-scale performances
of these concerti: I suspect the orchestral
context would minimize these flaws while
highlighting her strengths. Bis's pellucid
recording is top-drawer.