Classics have released two separate volumes of Piano Trios from
the pen of Johann Nepomuk Hummel performed on period-instruments
by Voces Intimae. The recordings were made at the famous
Teldex Studio in Berlin and are
the first releases that Italian-based ensemble Voces Intimae
have made in their collaboration with the Warner Classics label.
blurb from the Voces Intimae website states that, “The intent
of the Trio is to try and bring back to the music its original
transparency, to try and make evident the original intentions
of the composers through sound and phrasing, and bring to light
the history that is tied to the piece. The choice of the name,
Voces Intimae, confirms the group’s aim to select the more subtle
aspects of the repertoire without being obliged to play like
a ‘round of artillery’ but rather to show the rhythm of the
‘trot of a horse’ and the favouring of subtle undertones, the
understated, and the veins of melancholy, all aspects that during
the 20th century were ignored.” I think quite a bit has
been lost in translation but I get the general idea. What is
clear is that the ensemble play period instruments of an impressive
pedigree. Cecchetti plays a 1815 Salvatore Lagrassa fortepiano,
De Filippi plays a 1648 Antonio Mariani violin and Meo plays
a Mattia Albani cello from 1703.
There can be no
other composer who had been surrounded by so many great musicians
as Hummel. Mozart took the young Hummel into his home for music
tuition and later received instruction from luminaries: Clementi,
Albrechtsberger, Haydn and Salieri. Hummel also became acquainted with
Beethoven, who was also to study with Haydn and Albrechtsberger.
Surrounded by these masters, Hummel had the best possible Classical
teachers. He became an eminent and brilliant concert pianist,
undertaking an extensive concert tour of Europeand Russia as
well as composing a wide variety of works. Hummel
was the last major representative of the Viennese Classical School and the last remnant of the Classical tradition before
the Romantic age blossomed.
was born in Pressburg, now Bratislava in the Slovak Republic and died in Weimar. In 1804 he was employed by the Esterházy family
at the Eisenstadt Court
as Konzertmeister, taking over from Haydn, who was now in retirement
in Vienna and continuing as nominal Kapellmeister of Prince Esterházy.
The appointment was not without conflict and tension. Hummel
was summarily dismissed following a chaotic episode on Christmas
Day 1808 and was reinstated when the Prince relented. Following
frequent neglect of his duties Hummel resigned his post with
the Esterházys in 1811 and for the last time returned to Vienna,
where he lived without appointment as a teacher and concert
player. From 1816, Hummel served as Kapellmeister at the Stuttgart Court
and from 1819 became Grand-Ducal Kapellmeister at the Weimar Court.
Piano Trios were composed over a twenty year period and illustrate
the different phases of his artistic development. They were
all well received by his fellow musicians. All the scores are
written in the traditional three movement fast-slow-fast design.
The exact dates of composition are not known and what dates
we do have are taken from their year of publication or contemporary
reviews. An extremely useful and comprehensive Hummel works
list has been compiled and formatted by Mikio Tao (link).
It is worth noting that the numbers allotted to each
Piano Trio on the Warner Classics disc is different from
the numbering on Mikio Tao’s list (in brackets). Mr Tao mentions
an earlier Piano Trio in Bb, Op. 3a from circa 1792.
was a concert pianist and it is not surprising that the role
of the fortepiano dominates these works. I am not a great admirer
of the sound of the fortepiano, a generally unsatisfactory instrument
which soon became obsolete. The instrument underwent considerable
technical development, allowing greater compositional demands,
until it evolved into the concert grand that we know today.
Notwithstanding, Cecchetti’s 1815 Salvatore Lagrassa fortepiano
has one of the most appealing timbres that I have encountered
from an instrument of the period. The works benefit from the
relatively forward pacing of the violin and cello which prevents
their lines being over-dominated by the keyboard figuration.
ensemble Voces Intimae clearly relish performing these scores
and their playing throughout the seven trios merits the highest
praise. It would be possible to imagine tidier performances
but difficult to envisage interpretations that matched their
spontaneity and inspiration. I especially enjoyed how the players
were freshly paced and imaginatively phrased in the expansive
outer movements. The slow central movements are performed broadly
and expressively, avoiding the temptation to wallow and brood
engineers have provided a decent sound quality and the annotation
is of a high standard.
is much to savour in these affectionate and thoughtfully characterised
readings from Voces Intimae.