Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Septet in D minor Op.74 (c.1816) [33:44]
Charles Henry WILTON (1761-1832)
Six String Trios (1783): No. 1 [10:21]: No. 3 [8:43]: No.6 [9:07]
Septet: Franz Holetschek (piano), Camille Wanausek (flute), Rudolph Spurny (oboe), Franz Koch (horn), Günther Breitenbach (viola); Nicholas Hubner (cello); Joseph Duron (bass) ¹
Trios: Jean Pougnet (violin), Frederick Riddle (viola), Anthony Pini (cello)
rec. early 1950s

For many years Hummel’s Septet was one of the few works by which he was at all known. This was certainly true, in recording terms, in the early 1950s when this LP of it was made. It has been restored to the catalogue after long absence by Forgotten Records, a French label specialising in vintage LPs and their expert transfer to CD. There are no notes, just a card inlay with web links. But what good stuff they put out!

The Septet, which was also written in a version for string quintet, is played by a fine ensemble of which the most outstanding playing comes from the piano, played by the excellent Franz Holetschek. This is one noteworthy example of primus inter pares in the chamber repertoire and the dazzling array of pianistic roulades, quasi-theatrical incursions, and cadential spotlighting adds lustre. The other instruments all have their moments, of course, but since this was a work that Liszt used to play—and apparently his own embellishments were pervasive and dramatic—the main focus does rest with the keyboard.

If you are unsympathetic to the kind of flourishes to be found throughout this work, then you will naturally reject it. If however you have a yen for Viennese bravura and for the kind of charm and elegance that Hummel serves us in the Minuet and Scherzo, with its caressing melodies, then you will be highly pleased. The slow movement has a series of variations of which the slowest, with stalking bass line over which the piano slides and its confreres join in, is the most striking. All the combatants launch into the elegant fugal passage in the finale with great panache. There’s a chance here for the cello to shine, revealing a good cantilena. This early LP is a little boxy but its tendency to distort has been mitigated in the first class transfer.

The coupling is unusual. Even diehard British music aficionados would be hard pressed to tell you anything about Charles Henry Wilton (1761-1832). Hyperion has, however, of late released a disc with a couple of his anthems. Back in the 1950s you would have had to make do with three of his six string trios, played by the most illustrious string trio Britain has yet produced; that of Jean Pougnet, Frederick Riddle and Anthony Pini. Wilton’s 1783 trios are compact and high spirited, and brilliantly played. The interplay in the Allegro scherzando of the First trio is excellently realised, whilst the noble affetuso of the central movement of the Third is lovely. Don’t forego, either, the pleasures of the subtly realised drone effects in the finale. The Sixth trio is high energy, and a calorifically tasty piece of work.

Incidentally this august ensemble also recorded the string trios of Beethoven, Berkeley, Dohnányi, Françaix, Haydn and Hindemith on LP. The brilliant Moeran trio recording of 1941 was on 78s, and has already been transferred to CD.

Full marks to this label for continuing to explore the byways of the LP catalogue, and for returning with rich fare such as this.

Jonathan Woolf

Full marks Forgotten Records for continuing to explore the LP byways, and for returning with such rich fare.