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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
CD 1
Fantasie for piano, Op. 18 by 1805 [27:00] *
Seven Hungarian Dances, Op. 23 c.1806 [7:24] *
Sonata for piano Op. 20 [23:04] *
Variations Op. 21 [13:39] *
CD 2
Sonata for piano no 2 in E flat major, Op. 13 [26:09] *
Variations Op. 15 [17:09] *
RondÚ Brillante Op. 109 [8:51] *
Pot-Pourri Op. 58-59 [16:22] *
CD 3
Sonata Op. 92a [24:36] *
Capriccio [2:56] *
Sonata Op. 81 [29:30] *
CD 4
Amusement Pour Pianoforte et Violon Op. 108 [14:01] **
Grand Rondeau Brillant pour Pianoforte et Violon Op. 126 [17:03] **
Introduction et Variations pour Pianoforte et violon concertants sur un air allemand [13:50] **
Sonata for viola and piano Op. 5 no. 3 [19:36] **
CD 5
Variazione Alla Monferrina Op. 54 [15:08] ***
Grande Sonata Op. 104 [22:50] ***
Oberons ZauberHorn, Grande Fantasia Op. 116 [19:50] ***
CD 6
Sonata for viola and fortepiano in E Flat Major Op. 5 no. 3 [21:43] ****
Grande Sonata for mandolin and fortepiano in C Major Op. 35 [17:20] ****
Sonata for Flute and Fortepiano in D Major Op. 50 [18:34] ****
Mandolin Concerto in G Major S.28 [18:02] ****
Giuliana Corni (piano) *; Luigi Alberto Bianchi (violin, viola) **; Aldo Orvieto (piano) **, ***; Arturo Bonucci (cello) ***; Stefano Fiuzzi (fortepiano) ****; Marta Mazzini (flute) ****; Jodi Levitz (viola) ****; Dorina Frati (mandolin) ****
I Solisti di Fiesole ****; Nicola Paszkoswki (conductor) ****
rec. 1994/2000, Dynamic studios, Genoa, Italy. DDD
DYNAMIC CDS 554/1-6 [71:39 + 68:35 + 57:08 + 64:33 + 57:32 + 76:06]


Experience Classicsonline

Hummel 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. 

Hummelís 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. 

It 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 of accomplishment. 

Half 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. 

The 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 piano.

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 complex. 

Corniís 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. 

From 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. 

The 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 recording.

Mark Sealey 



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