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alternatively Crotchet

Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Le retour de Londres – Grand Rondeau brilliant, Op.127 (1833) [14:51]
Variations and Finale in B flat major, Op.115 (1830) [15:58]
Oberons Zauberhorn, Op.116 (1829) [18:47]
Variations in F major, Op.97 (1820) [17:07]
Christopher Hinterhuber (piano)
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, Gävle, Sweden, 16-20 January 2006.
NAXOS 8.557845 [66:44]

Recorded a matter of days after their most recent Ries disc, Christopher Hinterhuber and Uwe Grodd give us what, I hope, is the first in a series of Hummel albums.  There are no concertos here, but this collection of four concert pieces for piano and orchestra dating from 1820 to 1833 makes for an attractive programme.  Hummel’s virtuosic music calls for finesse rather than barnstorming, and these cultivated artists know just how to play it.
The disc opens with the last of the works to be composed, the Grand Rondeau brilliant – given the title Le retour de Londres in the published score, but referred to as Le retour ā Lourdes in a letter to Moscheles.  What’s in a name?  This is no tone poem depicting place; rather, it is a first class vehicle for expressive pianism.  The piece opens with a long-breathed introduction of imposing grandeur before Hummel blows the clouds away with a fresh breezy rondeau, full of smiles, sparkle and spice.  Hinterhuber trots stylishly and at a well judged pace through the virtuosic writing and the orchestra under Grodd is sympathetically supportive.
The longest piece in the programme, Oberons Zauberhorn, is something of a tone poem in the form of a free fantasia.  It was inspired by Weber’s opera Oberon but quotes very little of the opera’s musical material: Hummel uses little more than Weber’s horn-call motif and in any case he more-or-less composes his own.  The piece is musically and dramatically satisfying, veering from an atmosphere of mystery to an ebullient march; from a fierce summer storm to a joyful close.
The Variations and Finale in B flat major begin with a grand, almost tragic larghetto before Hummel states his theme, a simple song from the Berlin stage.  What he does with the tune, though, is anything but simple.  Hummel reminds us in these variations of his extraordinary improvisatory facility.  They are far from simple elaborations, but are ceaselessly charming.  The earlier Variations in F major which bring the disc to a close are more formally structured, with the theme stated at the outset and the orchestra linking the variations.  I have to confess it is my least favourite of the pieces on this disc.  It seems stiff after the greater fluidity of Hummel's conception in the three pieces that precede it.  At 17 minutes, it also seems overlong.  That said, there is certainly nothing wrong with Hinterhuber's playing or the stylish accompaniment.
Allan Badley again contributes a thoughtful set of liner notes and the recorded sound at this venue is as good as ever.
Naxos already has an old ex-Marco Polo recording of Hummel’s two most famous piano concertos, his Op.85 and Op.89, on its books.  Perhaps now is the time for them to re-record these pieces along with the rest of Hummel’s half dozen or so piano concertos and other concertante works.  It would be next to impossible for anyone to surpass Stephen Hough in Op.85 and Op.89 (CHAN 8507), but on the evidence of this disc Hinterhuber and Grodd have something to say about Hummel and it is something worth hearing.
Tim Perry


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