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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
String Quartet in C major, Op. 30 No. 1 (1804) [25.19]
String Quartet No. 2 in G major, Op. 30 No. 2 (1804) [25.24)
String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 30 No. 3 (1804) [26.54]
Delmé String Quartet
Rec 9-11 September 1991

Hummel is one of those composers whose fame was much more during his own lifetime than it has been subsequently, although he has never subsided into obscurity. As a boy he was something of a prodigy, living with Mozart in Vienna and studying the piano with him for three years from 1785. The master must have been sympathetic to a child prodigy, having been one himself. He created the opportunity for Hummel to make his Vienna debut in one of his subscription concerts in 1787. Hummel went on to tour Europe as a child prodigy pianist, and in later life put his experience to good use by writing a famous piano teaching method. He was also a leading figure in the development of international music publishing. It was claimed that he knew all the most famous people in musical Europe. For example, he was a pall-bearer at Beethovenís funeral.

The three string quartets, Hummelís only such compositions, were composed around 1804. They adopt classical principles and formulae, and their natures are evidenced by the remarkable similarities in their performing times. As such they make for a generously filled CD: nearly 80 minutes of urbane, sophisticated chamber music.

These feelings are as much encouraged by the sensitive performances of the Delmé, as by the warmly sensitive Hyperion recording which in this reissue sounds better than ever. Perhaps the finest of the three, if one must make such a recommendation, is No. 1, which shows a fine awareness of Beethovenís Opus 18 quartets as it does of Haydnís later masterpieces in the genre. The part writing, for example, is wonderfully effective, and gains from the unanimity of ensemble and phrasing from these experienced players.

Of course Hummel is neither Haydn nor Beethoven. Awareness of mastery does not mean equal mastery. Even so, the music is worthy of the highest company and of the highest recommendation. As an example, the urbane fugal textures of the minuet of Quartet No. 2 shows a reverence and understanding of Haydn, and a personality of its own too. For there are abundant imaginative touches to go with the technical understanding. All these things are experienced to excellent effect thanks to the advocacy of the Delmé Quartet and the suitability of the Hyperion recording. All in all, an enthusiastic recommendation for some fine performances of worthwhile music.

Terry Barfoot

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