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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.18 in B flat major, KV456 (1784) [32:37] (arr. J.N. Hummel)
Symphony No.40 in G minor, KV550 (1788) [28:21] (arr. J.N. Hummel)
Henrik Wiese (flute); Peter ClementeTibor Bényi (cello); Fumiko Shiraga (piano)
rec. June 2006, Bavaria Music Studios, Munich, Germany. DDD
BIS CD-1567 [61:56]

This is the final disc from the well-received BIS series featuring Hummel’s chamber arrangements of the Mozart piano concertos. Hummel made seven such arrangements, completing the set in 1836. He had lived in Mozart’s house from late 1785 to September 1787 receiving free tuition. From around 1820 he spent 15 years industriously re-arranging symphonies and concertos for the combination on this recording.
The Piano Concerto KV 456 (not KV 537 as it appears on the back of the CD case, oops!) was composed for the blind pianist Maria Theresia Paradis immediately before the young Hummel’s extended stay in the Mozart household, the arrangement, being made on the commission of an English music publisher, was made some fifty years later, when the flavour of romanticism in music was already in the air. Hummels’ arrangements enrich the piano part with decorative amendments and extra ornamentation, but the style and spirit of Mozart is in fact preserved largely intact. With the piano taking on an orchestral role as well as the solo part Hummel gave himself, within Mozart’s idiom, free rein to express his own virtuoso expertise in writing for the instrument – the other instruments are very much kept to a supporting role, albeit a warmly expressive and effective one. This concerto is unusual in that Mozart composed complete solo piano part including cadenzas (although these are not in autograph), and so it might seem a little perverse of Hummel to have composed new introductions and cadenzas. There is no avoiding the requirement from publishers and the buying market for contemporary style and novelty, something of which Hummel would have been acutely aware. We can but admire the consistency with which he broadens and extends Mozart’s work, so that, unless you know the original concerto intimately, the writing seems entirely natural – even where extra drama and wider modulations are thrown in like croutons into consommé.
Hummel was viewed by his contemporaries as the last legitimate representative of the classical style, so that with these arrangements he gives us new insights into the performance practice of the previous era, indeed into that of Mozart himself. This is most obvious in the arrangement of the G minor symphony KV550 (No. 40) where Hummel gives metronome markings that are much faster than we would normally expect today. This might reflect the difference in perceived effect through the smaller ensemble, and certainly would seem to have something to do with Viennese taste at the time – admiring of virtuosity and technical ability. Mozart himself took exception to Hummel’s own predilection for fast tempi, hating speed for its own sake, but nonetheless describing the outer movements of his ‘Haffner’ Symphony in D major KV385 as ‘fiery’ and to be performed ‘as fast as possible.’ Hummel’s own defence was respectful of his teacher: ‘Mozart did it like that: so do I.’
Whatever the historical theory and performing practice, the musicians on this recording are utterly convincing in these arrangements. The switch in roles for the piano in the concerto from ‘orchestral’ to ‘solo’ can be a little disorientating to start with, but with Fumiko Shiraga’s characterful playing there is never any real doubt about what is going on. The Symphony works extremely well, with all of those familiar little inflections, those dramatic twists and turns being revealed in a new light. For those of you for whom Mozart currently falls on jaded ears, this CD might well provide just the cure you need. The recording is truly gorgeous, with a wide stereo spread, ideal acoustic and superb balance. I’m not normally a big fan of Yamaha pianos, but the light sound of the instrument used for this recording suits Mozart/Hummel perfectly. The chamber music playing of the ensemble is wonderfully well integrated, each player having the sensitivity to blend with the others, so that your ear is never being drawn unwonted into one direction or another – unless the arrangement requires it.
Dominy Clements

Musicweb reviews of earlier releases in this series
CD-1237 Concerto for two pianos & Piano concerto 24
CD-1537 Piano concertos 22 & 26

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