Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778 - 1837)
Variations on Vivat Bacchus from Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, op. 34 No. 3 [9.38]
Variations on Theme from Gluck's Armide, Op. 57 [9:42]
Quintuor des Nègres [4.21]
Variations on the Aria Guide mes pas, O Providence from Cherubini's Les deux journées [8.35]
Grand Fantasia on Oberons Zauberhorn, Op. 116 [18.40]
Variations on the March from Nicolo Isouard's Cendrillon Op 40a. [12.35]
Potpourris from the opera Die Eselshaut, Op. 58 [11.19]
Madoka Inui (piano)
rec. Studio 2, ORF Funkhaus, Vienna, Austria, 3-4 January 2011
NAXOS 8.572736 [76.03] 

Hummel was a child prodigy, took lessons from Mozart for two years, was Haydn's successor at Eisenstadt and both Liszt and Schumann tried to become pupils. As an adult his technical prowess at the piano was phenomenal and it is his sheer virtuosity which can get in the way of performances of his music. 

Naxos are steadily accumulating discs of Hummel's varied output and this disc by Japanese pianist Madoka Inui showcases Hummel's piano fantasies based on operatic themes. Most of these are cast in variation form. Hummel seems to have been less concerned to evoke the operas concerned, and more interested in choosing a theme likely to be useful as the basis for spinning variations.
The variaions on the aria from Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail was written in Eisenstadt in 1810 - nearly thirty years after the opera's premiere. Hummel revered Mozart and his Figaro Fantasi has already appeared on a Naxos disc. There are 12 variations which Hummel presents in a series of varied contrasts, throwing in virtuoso moments as well as humour.
The variations on the theme from Gluck's Armide were written in 1815, whilst Hummel was in Vienna. The writing is more considered, more classical with fewer of Hummel's crowd-pleasing moments.
The lively Quintuor des Nègres is the only survival from Hummel's ballet based on the novel Paul et Virginie. Written in 1809/10, the ballet was premiered in Vienna. Its musical effects are typical characteristic dances, not quite evoking the subject matter, but charming all the same.
Cherubini's Les Deux Journées was a popular opera in its day, its ‘rescue opera’ format being influential on Beethoven. These were Hummel's second set of variations on a theme from the opera and seems to be a late work. It shows Hummel to be pleasing, if formulaic.
His Grand Fantasia has little to do with Weber's Oberon except for the horn-call itself. Here Hummel has abandoned the formulaic and gives us a truly grand, romantic fantasy. In fact it was originally written for piano and orchestra. It is a late work, premiered in Weimar whilst Weber's opera was on at the court theatre. The piano adaptation was made by Hummel and the result is rather engaging and shows Hummel bridging the gap towards the music of the younger generation.
Nicolo Isouard was a Maltese composer. His version of the Cinderella story reached Vienna in 1812, when Hummel wrote his variations. Here we return to the more formulaic, but pleasing style of the earlier pieces.
Finally there is a pot-pourri from Hummel's opera Die Eselshaut which was a fairy play, a genre popular at the time, with elaborate stage machinery. Hummel had left Eisenstadt and was trying to make his way as a free-lance composer and pianist. He published three arrangements of music from the score and made good money from them. They were a way of extending the life of the music.
Madoka Inui has the facility for Hummel's music and brings great charm to the keyboard. There are times though when I wished for a little more flexibility and rubato; the figuration is a tad metronomic. But this is a charming recital, though Hummel's style means that it is probably best to dip in rather than listening all the way through.  

Robert Hugill
A charming recital.