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Friederich August KUMMER (1797-1879)
Cello Duets

Duet Op.22 No.1 [12.52]
Duet Op.156 No.5 [8.11]
From Duet Op.156 No.3 – Arioso [2.54]
Duet Op.22 No.2 [18.33]
Duet Op.103 No.1 [7.48]
Duet Op.103 No.4 [14.30]
Phoebe Carrai and Tanya Tomkins (cellos)
rec. Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California, January 2005
AVIE AV 2060 [66.04]


Kummer was an oboist in the Dresden Court Orchestra in his teens, later gravitating to the cello section. Multi-instrumental facility was clearly his but the cello was to be his principal focus and his position in Dresden as performer and pedagogue was an august one. The studies he wrote for his own instrument are still of value to this day, and the Duets he wrote, all undated here, grew from the mid-nineteenth century vogue for Hausmusik.

They are elegantly crafted and lyrically delightful, without any pretensions to significance beyond their original function. Kummer drew deeply from the well of baroque inspiration, calling on the shade of Handel in particular, whilst also showing awareness of certain contemporary trends. The notes mention Wagner in this respect but Mendelssohn, whom they also mention and in whose quartet Kummer sometimes played, is a better example as is to a certain extent Schumann. He was not as influenced by Weber as was, say, Kalliwoda.

Played on baroque cellos, using gut strings, and therefore at low pitch these are warm performances. The Carrai-Tomkins duo brings out the Schumann influence in Op.22/1 with its instructional undercurrents and they are careful to spin the melody over pizzicati in the Andantino. In Op.156/5 he uses Handel’s See the Conquering Hero as a theme for a series of amiable variations with a slight adagio to give textual and emotive variety. In the Arioso from its opus mate Op.156/3 Kummer ransacks the Water Music for some decorative variational writing shared between the two instruments.

The range of influences is expanded by Schubert in Op.22/2 though the most arresting of all the slow movements here is that of Op.103/1. Kummer is not above a degree of humour, quoting from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Op.103/4 where, in the finale, he stretches out enough to include a frolicsome dance finale – with an Iberian tinge.

The playing, as suggested earlier, is adroit and appropriate to the material. Sometimes I felt things could go with greater incision but nothing is unnecessarily inflated. The inspiration for the project, Cellos for Chelsea, is a fine one, with all proceeds from the disc going to children’s cancer charities.

Jonathan Woolf

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