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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Sonatas: No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op. 81 (publ. 1819) [29:05]; No. 6 in D, Op. 106 (publ. 1826) [27:19]
Malcolm Binns (fortepiano: c.1825 Haschka (Op. 81); c.1830 Carl Schmidt (Op. 106))
rec. The Colt Collection, Kent, UK, August 1976. ADD


I have heard Binns’ twofer of late Beethoven in this series (EXP0001/2) and I found it more interesting for the instruments it presented than for Binns’ interpretations. When I heard this pianist at the Wigmore in 2003, I was massively disappointed - the programme included Beethoven’s Op. 110, interestingly. This Hummel disc, though, goes some way to rebalancing the scales.

The first surprise for the uninitiated might be the dark cloud that hangs over the F sharp minor. Hummel’s music is often seen as rather light and undemanding. Neither description fits here. Binns’ fluent fingers have no problems with any of the technical demands and there are plenty. But it is in the quasi-operatic scena that is the slow movement - ‘Largo con molt’espressione’ - that Binns approaches the outstanding. Staccato/legato contrasts of touch are most effective at around 2:30 and just before. There are some tremendous flights of fantasy here.

The finale is very lively, with an almost Hungarian feel - acciaccaturas abound. Strangely, and interestingly, it contains a contrastive fugal passage that becomes positively Beethovenian with the bass entry at around 1:50. Overall this is great fun and even quite virtuoso.

The instrument Binns uses is by the Moravian Georg Haschka (1772-1828). It has a robust sound with a glistening treble.

There is a clever link between the instrument for Op. 106 and the composer. Binns plays a Carl Schmidt Viennese-type piano of around 1830. Schmidt, like Hummel, came from Pressburg. This piano was produced around the time Hummel produced his treatise on piano playing. We are told that Binns has kept as closely as possible to Hummel’s tenets. The sound as captured on this recording is a little harsh, which is quite fitting given the generally sparser textures of Op. 106. Under Binns’ fingers, the more reflective parts of the first movement become a dream.

Beethovenian stomping informs the second movement, entitled, ‘Un Scherzo all’antico’, something set in full relief by the tripping-along, so-sweet Trio. None of this really prepares the listener for the intensity of the Larghetto; luckily the piano has the capability to sustain the long lines and to allow the textures to blossom. If anyone tries to convince you that Hummel is a lightweight, just play them this movement.

A timely reminder, then, of just how fine - if not great - a composer Hummel actually was. Stephen Hough has been doing sterling work in this field for Hyperion also. The more the merrier, I say.

Colin Clarke

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