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
three string quartets, Hummel’s 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
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 Beethoven’s Opus
18 quartets as it does of Haydn’s later
masterpieces in the genre. The part
writing, for example, is wonderfully
effective, and gains from the unanimity
of ensemble and phrasing from these
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