was a contemporary of Beethoven; one of those figures whose
music is exceptionally tuneful, inventive and accomplished Ė
yet who is too often overlooked in favour of his more illustrious
contemporaries. This is not least because itís hard to categorize.
His solo piano music - of which we hear a good sample here -
has the depth and beauty of that written either by a young Schubert
in imitation of Mozart or as a romantic Mozart would have done.
Nor can we help but think of Chopin - and even Beethoven and
Schumann - when listening to Hummelís piano music. Itís calm,
centred, studied, graceful and free. Yet it is at the same time
disciplined and always leading somewhere significant.
somewhat cosmopolitan and colourful compositions draw on a variety
of styles; it may not be too fanciful to attribute these in
part to the composerís origins. He was born in Bratislava and
for the first years of his life was exposed to the cultural
preoccupations and priorities of Hungarians, Slovaks, and Austrians.
Hummel spent time in Vienna and London, where he studied with
Mozart, Haydn, Salieri; then with Clementi. Appearing throughout
northern Europe as a child prodigy, Hummel also became friends
with Beethoven and knew Albrechtsberger. Indeed, he took Haydnís
place at Eisenstadt until he was dismissed in 1811 Ė his heart
did not really seem to be in what was asked of him there.
surely has not helped Hummelís acceptance and reputation that
he has often been mischaracterised as a rather Ďslightí composer
of superficial salon music - of music which places bravura over
substance. So this set of six nicely-filled CDs (which are also
extremely attractively-priced) ought to do much to offer a fairer
and more accurate assessment. It will surely also help listeners
with ears to hear satisfy themselves that Hummelís is music
worthy of close attention for what it is, not for which genre
it may or may not belong to. This is all the more so when itís
played with just the music in mind by players of this level
the collection (the first three CDs) contains nothing but piano
music, admirably played by Giuliana Corni. There are the well-known
pieces like the second sonata, the two sets of variations and
Capriccio. You will also hear less celebrated pieces,
but ones also deserving careful listening. The op. 92 sonata
is gentle, full of lovely melodies and of carefully-turned and
consonant harmonies. On the whole, these three CDs alone represent
a feast of the most recommendable of Hummelís solo piano music.
Op. 106 (the D Major) is just about the only major omission.
next two CDs comprise mostly music for piano and strings Ė and
are just as pleasing. The pianist this time is Aldo Orvieto.
Oberons ZauberHorn is another Fantasy Ė for piano and
orchestra. In common with most of the other pieces on this selection,
this has come from other Dynamic single issues Ė this time catalogue
number 286, which contains all Hummelís works for cello and
CD 6 contains three
more sonatas Ė three for fortepiano (with viola, flute and mandolin)
and includes the interesting and compelling G Major Mandolin
Concerto. Again this comes from soloist Dorina Fratiís Dynamic
release (128). That disc also contains the mandolin and piano
sonata in C minor (Op. 37a).
Most of these performances
can then be found elsewhere; but here they are available nicely
aggregated - although without a correspondingly comprehensive
booklet - for much less than the cost of collecting them individually.
On that basis alone, this is a set that can be recommended unless
you are put off by the fact that
few of the performers are world-renowned top-flight stars. The
outstanding one has to be Giuliana Corni, whose piano playing
has flair and exuberance in equal measure with panache and poise.
She truly makes the music sing and persuade us that Hummel had
(and has) something significant to say to us of his conception
and design. He can say it well, without fuss and with his own
very unself-conscious voice. In Corniís hands that communication
consists of a mťlange of wry regret, optimism and tempered delight
at what the instrument can reflect about the world. Thatís wistful,
yet never maudlin, melodies; tonalities that attract your attention,
yet do not jar; and textures which are clear yet in places quite
pieces too were taken from what appears to be a series of Hummelís
piano works Ė on the same label (volume 3 is on Dynamic
2038). Others of these were also
similarly first released Ö the Op. 54 variations on Dymanic
286, for example.
the tone of the rather slim and perfunctory accompanying essay
and way the collection is presented, this set is intended as
a sampler, a showcase for those new to Hummel. It should also
appeal to those who want some of Hummelís most eloquent works.
As such it serves a worthy purpose well, although the level
of playing sometimes lacks that brilliance and spontaneity which
would have put it at the top of a list the very best recordings
of each work in each case. Howard Shelleyís series on Chandos
is an example of the latter.
range of music on this set is pleasing, too: from solo piano,
to piano and strings, to fortepiano (particularly fetching)
and small orchestra. Even the couple of pieces for mandolin
on the last CD you will want to return to. Though here again
the Chandos (9925) coupling with the well-known trumpet concerto
- surely most peopleís way in to Hummel - would be the preferred