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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Quartet in G major, Op. posth. (published 1839)
(01. I. Andante cantabile [05:32]; 02. II. Allegro con spirito [11:45])
Micaela Comberti, violin; Jane Rogers, viola; Pal Banda, cello; Susan Alexander-Max, fortepiano
Piano Trio in G major, Op. 35 (1811)
(03. I. Allegro con brio [07:39]; 04. II. Tempo di Menuetto [03:38]; 05. III. Rondo: Vivace e scherzando [03:55]}
Micaela Comberti, violin; Pal Banda, cello; Susan Alexander-Max, fortepiano
Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 104 (1826)
(06. I. Allegro amabile e grazioso [11:13]; 07. II. Romanza: Un poco Adagio e con espressione [05:48]; 08. III. Rondo: Allegro vivace un poco [06:24])
Pal Banda, cello; Susan Alexander-Max, fortepiano
Piano Trio in F major, Op. 22 (1807)
(09. I. Allegro moderato [05:26]; 10. II. Andante con Variazioni [04:14]; 11. III. Rondo: Alla Turca: Vivace [03:45])
Simon Standage, violin; Pal Banda, cello; Susan Alexander-Max, fortepiano
rec. Weston Parish Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, June 2002 and March 2003
NAXOS 8.557694 [69.22]

Naxos continues its championing of Hummel with a disc that regrettably also serves as an in memoriam to that fine British violinist Micaela Comberti, one of whose final recordings this must have been. She died at the early age of fifty-one.

We’ve come to admire Hummel’s concertante works recently and recordings of his choral music have opened up hitherto under-explored areas, greatly to our advantage. In fact it might be argued that we are now moving away from Hummel the virtuoso keyboard exponent, so beloved by pianists of the Golden Age, to a reflective transitional period in which his large-scale choral works are increasingly taking their place on the fringes of the canon. And not before time.

Which is not to overlook the reams of chamber music that he wrote throughout his life, and which is the raison d’être of this new release. Hummel was a gloriously fluent composer but that very articulacy could sometimes lead to a preponderance of note-spinning, repetition and a surfeit of what one might call concertante bluffness. That’s certainly the case here but only from time to time.

The Piano Quartet was published posthumously in 1839 and is cast in two movements. There is some languorous phraseology in the opening Andante cantabile, even if the fortepiano does sound rather recessed in this recording spectrum but there’s a concerto-sized Allegro to contrast with it. The string players provide the cushion – and the tuttis – for the sturdily striding piano part – all very attractive if not especially distinctive. The much earlier G major Piano Trio is a suavely laid out three-movement work that reveals Hummel’s consummate professionalism. The over-long opening movement is followed by a Minuet, with plenty of gusto in this performance as Susan Alexander-Max detonates some left-hand fortepiano fillips amidst a certain amount of trenchancy. The Rondo finale is light-hearted with a sparkling piano part - naturally, as Hummel was a leading virtuoso on the instrument - a sliver of a fugato, and a certain Beethovenian feel to some of the piano writing.

In 1826 Hummel completed a Cello Sonata, a big work, romantic, spacious and immediately attractive. The piano part has a touching nobility of expression, but also a welcome incision, one that here tends very occasionally to over-balance the more reticent cello in passagework. Again the material can be over-stretched but it hardly lacks for melodic interest, not least in the lied of the Romance, which possesses a suave beauty - the word ‘suave’ tends to rise unbidden when thinking of Hummel - but also a contrasting declamatory section. Easy-going, and full of strongly accented figures, Banda and Alexander-Max do well by the folk-like pages of the finale in particular, and they complete a successful traversal with a degree of panache.

The F major Trio is the earliest work here, dating from 1807, and reveals the powerful influence of Haydn. From the gemütlich opening, the unrolling fugal passages - which soon give up the ghost - and the variational second movement, this is very much in the Viennese tradition, solidly classical and topped by a fashionable - or maybe just past it - Turkish Rondo finale.

The sonorities evoked by the well-versed ensemble of baroque instrument practitioners are most attractive and add a certain tangy frisson. Sometimes the recording in Weston Parish Church loses a degree of focus and string instruments can be over-balanced by the fortepiano but this doesn’t happen too often. Spirited and lyrical, though not invariably convincing, this is another feather in the Naxos Hummel cap.

Jonathan Woolf



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