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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Septet in D minor, Op. 74 (1816) [31:41] Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Grand Septet in B flat Major (1828) [22:52]
The Nash Ensemble
rec. The Unitarian Chapel, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, London, England. No date given CRD 3344 [54:20]
This recording constituted one of my favourite chamber music LPs with its mix of, at the time, unusual repertoire and the playing of the wonderful Nash Ensemble. It's a real winner.
These days the music of Hummel is well known, with the Septet and its companion, the Septet Militaire Op. 114, being amongst his most popular pieces. The Septet was composed in 1816 for the unusual instrumentation of piano, flute, oboe, horn, viola, cello and double bass, and was a runaway success. It served to establish Hummel as a household name, with many of his contemporaries regarding him as the equal of Beethoven. However, his music being rooted in the classical style, quickly fell out of favour as the romantic movement began to flourish.
The four movements of the Septet are full of musical charm and grace with some exciting playing from the Nash in the brisker sections. Indeed there seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to this work. There are those who choose a slower pace, best exemplified by Capricorn on Hyperion (CDH55214), and those, like the Nash, who adopt a more spirited tempo. The Nash is nearly seven minutes faster than Capricorn. Whilst both approaches have their validity I do prefer the faster tempo as it brings a little more panache.
Berwald could be described as a part-time composer, as amongst his many other ventures were director of an orthopaedic institute, part-owner of a glassworks and the owner of a saw-mill. His best and most characterful music comes from the 1840s. Of his early works the Septet, which shares its scoring with that of Beethoven, is one of his finest and most colourful pieces. The work has some wonderful writing for the winds, especially in the final movement where the clarinet shines, and especially in the hands of Antony Pay of the Nash Ensemble whose performance is more spirited than either the Gaudier Ensemble on Hyperion (CDD22053) or the Lysell Quartet and friends on Musica Sveciae (MSCD 520).
I do have a slight reservation regarding the sound which is now showing its age with the strings sounding a little thin at times; the performance makes up for this. However, if the sound is important, then there are good performances to consider not least those on Hyperion. The accompanying booklet notes, like all CRD releases, are excellent and offer a good background to the music.