Hummel was a significant
concerto composer but neither of the two presented in Naxos’
Nineteenth Century Concerto series will be at all well known.
The Violin Concerto, provisionally dated to around 1806, was
never completed and for this recording Gregory Rose has added
orchestral parts to a number of passages in the outer movements,
as well as two cadenzas and has completely edited the work.
solo part was intact and the adagio exists in Hummel’s own
hand. It’s a pleasing work but rather too long for its material,
not least the first movement. The solo part calls for an executant
of a high technical order though not one who necessarily needs
to excavate much in the way of sentiment or genuine feeling.
Not that the concerto is merely decorative; the slow movement
seems to me to show some influence not of a contemporary such
as Beethoven, nor of a decided influence on Hummel such as
Mozart, but rather of Gluck. There’s a wistful, vocalised
quality to it that impresses. The finale is pliant and colourful
but stubbornly unmemorable. As for the recording the violin
is rather spotlit at the expense of orchestral detail; the
orchestral playing can be a touch rugged and soloist Alexander
Trostiansky – who can certainly get round the notes – could
have varied his colours rather more, with the recording tending
to exaggerate an abrasive quality to his tone.
The double concerto
for the unusual combination of piano and violin was completed
in 1804. This is certainly cut from Mozartian cloth – I thought
of the later violin concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante
rather more than the piano concertos. The piano often as not
takes a dominating role in the first movement, with the violin
often finishing phrase endings or commenting on the piano’s
statements, though there’s considerable give and take and
interplay between the two. There’s a big cadenza for the two
to end the first movement. The central movement is fluent,
eventful – with fine roles for wind principals to weave decorative
lines into the textures. Rose has introduced a cadenza in
the Rondo finale – a bright, sparky movement, not especially
distinctive but with brisk exchanges to enliven proceedings.
There are competing
versions of both these works on Chandos 10255 James Ehnes
plays the Violin Concerto in the completed version made by
Hogger and Shelley. Howard Shelley himself conducts and joins
Ehnes for the double concerto on Chandos 9687. Ehnes is certainly
the superior instrumentalist and plays with dash and finesse.
Shelley plays and conducts with admirable direction. The problem
is that you have to invest in both discs; Naxos has cut the
Gordian knot and joined them; at budget price, despite some
weaknesses in performance and recording, you will certainly
encounter two spirited works.