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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Arrangements for flute, violin, cello and piano by Hummel
Symphony No. 38 in D major, ‘Prague’. K.804 (AE 546) [25:39]
Symphony No. 40 in G minor, k.550 (AE 547) [23:33]
Symphony No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543 (AE 548) [26:11]
Uwe Grodd (flute), Friedemann Eichhorn (violin), Martin Rummel (cello), Roland Krüger (piano).
rec. 14-16 Jan., 2010, Schloss Weinberg, Kefermarkt, Austria.
NAXOS 8.572841 [75:29]

Hummel’s arrangement removes the universality of Mozart’s symphonies and renders a certain intimacy to each piece. In this CD, the listener can appreciate what Eduard Hanslick describes as ‘the beautiful in music’. Through these performances Hummel’s emotional response to Mozart is felt. In lieu of Hanslick’s theories posited in his book entitled Vom Musikalisch-Schönen, Hummel’s art is recognised: ‘above all, as producing something beautiful which affects not our feelings but the organ of pure contemplation, our imagination.’
Hummel’s adoration and respect for Mozart is evident in these almost unwavering arrangements; only altering a few stylistic trends, so as to be in keeping with the times, Hummel’s interpretations are eloquent gestures to his idol. In keeping with the self-conscious and at times introverted Romantic spirit, Hummel strips away some ornamental embellishments to produce a minimalist and reflective approach. As a friend of the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Hummel appears to be ‘Making music out of beauty, / With a question hidden deep’ (April). These pieces form an homage to the majesty of Herr Mozart; so much so that one can imagine Hummel using Goethe’s words to confess that:
In my music’s echo
The starry host appear,
Eternal feelings, bless, now:
Sleep! What would you more?
(Night Song)
The quartet work well in the more sprightly passages — the tempo is generally a little faster than when recorded as a symphony — where the individual instrumentalists seem to meld effortlessly. However, in the more pensive and slower passages, such as the slow opening to the first movement of the Prague, the musicians sometimes lose their point of connectivity and sound slightly out of kilter and rather too tentative. As a pianist himself, Hummel dons the piano with an added sense of importance. At once forthright and yielding, its presence is both stimulating and consoling for both musicians and listeners. In this recording, Hummel’s sense of coherence and finely-tuned attentiveness is subtly recognised by Roland Krüger who is allusive and suggestive rather than declamatory. Krüger  gives insightful impressions and glimpses into the tensions between the Mozart originals and Hummel’s savvy interpretations. Often given the role of provocateur, Hummel’s piano-line arrangement in particular is intriguing and exciting. Unfortunately, this zesty character is sometimes overshadowed by Uwe Grodd’s occasionally wafty and glib swathes. Grodd performs best when structurally restrained within the clipped staccato framework of the piano. When performing the Presto of Symphony No. 38, Rummel unfolds the cello’s rustic and smooth timbres which speaks of the attitude of the piece as a whole. The final movement jostles between vigorous outbursts and lyrical passages where the instruments both echo and offer contrasts to the initial motifs.
Originally composed on 25 July 1788, Mozart’s ‘Great G Minor Symphony’ arranged by Hummel turns this often hummed and whistled piece into something more contemplative and internal. Described by Robert Schumann as possessing ‘Grecian lightness and grace’, under Hummel’s grounding hand, this loses its loftiness and becomes somewhat earthly. Most noticeably, the exchanges between piano and cello in the Allegro molto transform a supine melody into something acoustically coloured and textured. In the Finale (played allegro assai), the ensemble maximise the tension within rest beats and unpick Hummel’s exquisite arrangement, highlighting yet merging the jagged tones of each instrument.
The final piece, the Symphony No. 39, bursts forth with eagerness. To follow Christian Schubart’s definition from his Affective Key Characteristics, this is a piece which tells a story ‘of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God’. By contrast, in the Minuetto, a sense of youthful gaiety and femininity pervades. Acting as an energetic interlude, this movement is played with diction and delight. The quartet is in the faster movements both careful and precise. At times the musicians seem marginally lacklustre; however, the overall impression is one of commensurate technical ability and good intentions.

Lucy Jeffery

Previous review: John Sheppard