Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor, Op.20 (c.1807) [17:04]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Fantasy in C minor, K.475 (1785) [9:28]
Piano Sonata in F major, K.332 (1783) [14:42]
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL
Fantasy after Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Op.124 [5:48]
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Andante with Variations, Op.82 (1841) [8:52]
Daria Gloukhova (piano)
rec. November 2009, State House of Radio Broadcasting and Recording, Moscow. DDD.
CENTAUR CRC3080 [55:54]
This is the first recording of the young and promising pianist Daria Gloukhova. Her technique may be not perfect yet, but she brings a vision, which means quite a lot. The pianist declared a personal crusade to revive attention to the music of the “lesser names”, as well as to less known works of the “big names”. A demonstration of this is a big tattoo on her left shoulder, showing Hummel’s name and years of life. Yes, a real tattoo. Personally, I find this a bit drastic, but I must admit it goes well with her “gothic”, dramatic looks and performing manner. On Gloukhova’s site one can see a similar tattoo on her right shoulder, with Schumann’s name and dates, and this may hint at the direction of her future recordings. More predilections, if exist, are not shown on the photos.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel belongs to the unfortunate cohort of composers that lived between Mozart and Beethoven, and inevitably suffered the unfavorable comparisons. Not going as far as tattoos, I nevertheless agree with Gloukhova on one point: if these composers are eclipsed by these two giants, it does not mean that they are inferior to composers who did not live under the shadow and have thus enjoyed a “fairer” assessment. Hummel’s sonata combines Mozart’s clarity with proto-Romantic drama and echoes of the Sturm und Drang. The first movement opens with a memorable, longing theme. The second subject is more Classical, a light-and-shadow motif. Hummel was an excellent pianist and knew how to write for the public. The development is stormy and dramatic, and the coda is grandiose. The piano assumes an almost concertante role; I wonder whether Chopin knew this sonata when he wrote his First Concerto.
The second movement is Adagio maestoso in a buttoned-up major: stately, unhurried, like the slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique. Gradually steam is gathered with a feeling of heroic importance. The finale resembles that of the Appassionata. Tempestuous cascades give way to a triumphant fugato, and the sonata ends in victorious glee, with some resemblance to the finale of Mozart’s Jupiter. This attractive sonata definitely deserves a wider popularity. I am not sure Gloukhova’s impatient approach does it the best service: if these muscles were given the freedom to expand, they could show their full power.
Gloukhova does not hide any of the drama in Mozart’s dark Fantasy, and adds some more on top. It is known that Mozart himself favored maintaining strict tempo when playing, so I’m not sure what he’d say of this performance, which is quite free tempo-wise. In the most tempestuous places she is in a hurry; together with the heavy pedal it all sounds a bit muddy. This is far from the classical style of playing Mozart – this is Appassionata playing. Even the calming second subject is pressurized. If this is her Mozart, her Beethoven could be striking!
The F major Sonata is one of the most advanced and interesting Mozart’s sonatas, especially the first movement with its fantastic riffs. If the Fantasy contains the seed of Beethoven, this movement is the seed of Rossini. Predictably, Gloukhova is in a hurry again. Her second movement is heavy-handed, and some of its hazy charm is lost. She makes it Andante, not Adagio and seems to wait for the minor-key places and plays them as if Chopin wrote them. This haste creates a certain “music box” effect. Gloukhova plays the garrulous finale with impatient drive, though not roughly. The tempo is uneven, and the constant hammering is a bit tiring.
Hummel’s Fantasy on The Marriage of Figaro mostly travels the Non più andrai aria. Its martial aspects are well explored, and there are some more playful, less serious variations. This music does not pretend to have any dramatic depths – just a nice unassuming paraphrase. Gloukhova plays with panache.
After all the turmoil, Mendelssohn’s Andante brings peace and serenity. The character and the structure of the theme are reminiscent of Haydn’s famous anthem and could be imagined to be a variation on it, in a light melancholic minor. Out of the five variations, No.3 is omitted without an explanation; surely it could have been accommodated. The other variations are rather Schumanesque – some more restrained, some more restless, and all very emotional. This is the most Romantic of the works on this disc, and it goes well with Gloukhova’s expressive approach.
Technically, the recording is successful. The voice of the piano is light and bright. The recording is spacious and well balanced. The sound is very clear, and the inner voices are heard very well. In general, I liked the candid maximalism of the pianist. Her technique is very good: not a superpower yet, but she can do what she wants to do. Yet she seems to me to be in too much of a hurry, over-personalizing and over-dramatizing the music. In some places I can almost see how she hardly restrains herself from leaping forward.
Sometimes a fresh view of the well-known works can be eye-opening. Daria Gloukhova gives us somewhat romanticized accounts. Some people like this approach, so consult your preferences. I will definitely be looking out for her recordings of Beethoven and Schumann. Although at times it seemed to me that she was already playing Beethoven and Schumann on this disc.
The pianist seems to be in too much hurry, over-personalizing and over-dramatizing the music.