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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Trios Volume 1:
Piano Trio No. 2 (3) in F Major, Op. 22 (1799) [13.05]
Piano Trio No. 5 (6) in E Major, Op. 83 (1819) [27.36]
Piano Trio No. 6 (7) in E-flat major, Op. 93 (c. 1822) [20.11]
Voces Intimae: Riccardo Cecchetti, fortepiano; Luigi de Filippi, violin; Sandro Meo, cello
rec. 23-27 March 2004, Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62595-2 [60.63]

 


Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL
(1778-1837)
Piano Trios Volume 2:
Piano Trio No. 1 (2) in E-flat major, Op. 12 (c. 1803)[20.01]
Piano Trio No. 3 (4) in G Major, Op. 35 (c. 1811) [15.13]
Piano Trio No. 4 (5) in G Major, Op. 65 (c. 1814-15) [15.56]
Piano Trio No. 7 (8) in E-flat major, Op. 96 (c. 1822) [18.36]
Voces Intimae: Riccardo Cecchetti, fortepiano; Luigi de Filippi, violin; Sandro Meo, cello
rec. 21-24 September 2004,at Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62596-2 [69.46]

 

Warner 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.

The 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.

Hummel 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.

Hummel’s 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.

Hummel 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.

The 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 excessively.  

The engineers have provided a decent sound quality and the annotation is of a high standard.

There is much to savour in these affectionate and thoughtfully characterised readings from Voces Intimae.

Michael Cookson

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