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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)

Fantasie in G minor Op.123 [12:16]
Fantasie in E flat Op.18 (1805) [23:24]
Rondo quasi una fantasia in E Op.19 (1806) [8:24]
La contemplazione in A flat (from Six Bagatelles Op.107) (1826) [9:01]
Fantasie Recollections of Paganini (1832) [9:48]
Fantasina in C on “Non piu andrai” Op.124 (1833) [5:44]
Madoka Inui (piano)
Rec. Studio 3, ORF Funkhaus, Vienna, July 2005 DDD
NAXOS 8.557836 [68:38]

Hummel was a virtuoso pianist who in 1813 at the time of his marriage to the singer, Elizabeth Röckel was intent on a career as a composer. She persuaded him to continue playing and effectively became his manager. Nevertheless he also composed extensively in all the usual formats, with works for the piano being only a relatively small part of his output. The concertos and sonatas are becoming reasonably well-known but his fantasies are rarities on disc. The present recording of Op.123 is a world première. Although they were considered revolutionary at the time, a couple of centuries on it is a little hard to see why.

The G minor Fantasie is in five short movements with an underlying hunting theme and is partly based on material from Cornish ballads. Frankly, I found this rather banal but the disc does get better as it goes on. The E flat Fantasie is the earliest and most extended work. If the four movements are structured like a sonata, freedoms within them justify the classification. The second movement Larghetto e cantabile is notably touching. Here Hummel was competing with Beethoven in his prime and, although he wasn’t winning, this was more due to lack of real innovation than lack of ideas or compositional mastery. The Rondo quasi una fantasia is grander in gesture but more concise in form. The other works are also fairly short and immediately attractive. La contemplazione is particularly melodious and the Paganini recollections imaginative, drawing on the 9th and 11th caprices, his first two violin concertos and 7th guitar quartet. “Non piu andrai” is the most famous aria from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and Hummel, a master improviser in his time, provided a tantalizing and refreshing take which concludes the disc on a high note.

If the music is of variable quality, the playing of the young Japanese pianist Madoka Inui is not. She proves a very reliable guide, relishing the freedom of expression inherent in the music without ever overdoing it. She plays a Bösendorfer and is most naturally recorded. There is good documentation although it would have been nice to know what relation the artist of The Granite Dish in the Pleasure Garden on the front cover was to the composer – i.e. Johann E. Hummel (1769-1852) – perhaps an older brother?

For me, Hummel’s piano sonatas are of considerably more interest than the music played here. I hope Naxos will complete their sonata series before too long. Nevertheless there is enough here that is pleasurable to justify the modest cost and Madoka Inui is a name to watch out for.

Patrick C Waller




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