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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Complete Piano Trios

Disc 1:
Trio in E flat major, Op. 93 [19:27]
Trio in G major, Op. 65 [14:47]
Trio in E major, Op. 83 [26:28]
Disc 2:
Trio in E flat major, Op. 12 [17:42]
Trio in E flat major, Op. 22 [12:46]
Trio in G major, Op. 35 [13:19]
Trio in E flat major, Op. 96 [16:29]
Trio Parnassus: Friedemann Rieger, piano; Wolf-Dieter Streicher, violin; Michael GroB, cello
Recorded 1980s, location not provided
MDG 303 0307-2 [60:59 + 60:40]

 

Johann Nepomuk Hummel was one of the finest composers bridging the gap between the Classical and Romantic eras. His teachers included Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and Hummel learned his lessons very well. His music is notable for its harmonious treatments, expert architecture and never-ending string of attractive melodies.

For most of the 20th century, Hummel's works received very few recordings and was infrequently programmed at live concerts. The exceptional British record label Chandos changed all that when it released, over ten years ago, a disc of two Hummel Piano Concertos conducted by Bryden Thomson with Stephen Hough taking the solo piano part. No longer could we simply think of Hummel as a composer of attractive and relatively superficial music. Thomson and Hough conveyed a vitality and breadth of expression that gave Hummel's works much greater depth and meaning.

In the years since that Chandos recording, the Hummel discography has grown substantially. Yet, the Thomson/Hough disc has clearly remained the best Hummel recording on the market. Now, thanks to MDG and the Trio Parnassus, the Chandos disc has some company at the top of the ladder. The 2-disc MDG set is a real eye-opener. The performers impart a bold and propulsive approach tailor-made to these piano trios. Although the piano trios of Haydn and Mozart are tough to match, Hummel's do not take a backseat in the least.

The set includes all of Hummel's piano trios excepting for the earliest that Hummel never identified as being a piano trio. These are all three-movement works having energetic first movements blended with tender motifs, slow middle movements of fine lyricism, and third movements of great vitality and propulsion. They do need the advocacy of idiomatic performances, and the Trio Parnassus is more than up to the task.

I have listened to the set for many hours, never feeling a requirement to take a break and losing my concentration. The music is never less than delightful, and the performers make it even better with their sharp attacks and drive in the outer movements and poignant refrains in the middle movements. In a sense, these are 'go for the throat' interpretations, uncovering a determined and incisive composer just as Hough and company did on the Chandos piano concerto recording.

Special notice must be made of two of the movements on the set. One is the 2nd Movement Un poco Larghetto from the Op. 93 Trio that has two luxurious and gorgeous themes capped off by a determined and heroic motif (disc 1, tr. 2, 3:38); the contrast is totally captivating. The other piece is the 1st Movement Allegro of the Op. 83 Trio. In this outstanding movement, Hummel puts all his inspiration and composing skills to work with music of great thematic development, propulsive blasts of heat, and strong angst combined with absolutely beguiling passages of tenderness and warmth. Also, the compelling piano runs are quite reminiscent of Mozart's best in the genre.

The sound quality of the stringed instruments is exceptional with perfect resonance and detail. The piano tone can be rather glassy in the higher registers, but the overall soundstage certainly does justice to the superb music and performances.

In conclusion, this is a splendid set covering some of Hummel's most rewarding music in performances that cannot be improved upon. Although there are a few other Hummel recordings that are mighty fine, the 'best of Hummel' is to be found in this MDG set and the Chandos piano concerto disc featuring Stephen Hough. With such wonderful performances, Hummel becomes a worthy alternative to Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven. The MDG is an essential set worth every penny of its premium price.

Don Satz



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