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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Hummel Edition
rec. 1995-2017

Johann Nepomuk Hummel is one of those composers who seems always to have been on the periphery of the musical world. He has been described as a “third rate Beethoven” and, as a result, his music has never really been popular - this despite the best efforts of the likes of Chandos who have released quite a few excellent discs of his music, especially the piano concertos and masses.

Born in what is now Bratislava, the Austrian composer was something of a child prodigy both as a pianist and composer, spending two years studying and living with Mozart from the age of eight, indeed Constanze would later describe him as her foster-son, making his first public performance in one of Mozart’s own concerts at the age of nine. He was to become one of the most in-demand piano virtuosos of his generation, and seen as a protégé of Haydn, whom he succeeded at the court of Prince Esterházy in Eisenstadt. He was also a friend of Beethoven, of whose pianism and compositions he was somewhat in awe, a reason given why he never composed a symphony of his own. His musical style is seen as being transitional between the Classical and Romantic styles, which is probably why his music became neglected after his death. While showing the influences of his teachers and friends, his music also has an individual and pianistic feel, probably because the piano was his own instrument, although there is a story of the young Hummel playing the violin in the street, being mocked by another boy, and smashing the instrument over the offending child’s head. There is lots of interest in his music which has led to my having quite a few recordings already, some of which I play regularly.

The box set opens with the three discs of the complete piano sonatas, which were originally released on Brilliant earlier in 2018 (94378). I have only a single disc, which in comparison sounds a little dull: volume 1 of Constance  Keene’s survey for Newport Classics (NCD 60161) offers the first three sonatas, but the Steinway D sounds too heavy for the music; here on these three discs, we have lovely sounding fortepianos, one a copy of a Walter, the other an Erard which was made the year after Hummel’s death, and instantly the music is lifted by the lighter sound of these pianos. Add to this Keene’s predilection for cutting repeats, and this new recording is a winner. There are highlights on each of the discs and much to enjoy: the exuberant opening of Sonata No. 1 and the Fantasina on Le nozze di Figaro on the first disc sets the scene well regarding what to expect. The performances of the Fifth Sonata on disc 2 and the Adagio Maestoso of the Sonata No. 3 with its lovely lilting theme and the following fugal final movement on the third disc, are wonderful. Constantino Mastroprimiano’s playing is excellent throughout; he certainly shows a greater understanding of this music than Keene and gets a lot more from the score than she does - his is a real interpretation. The instruments, although fortepianos, have a lovely, rounded sound, not too small or plinky-plonky as some early pianos can be. If you are in the market for just the piano sonatas, then I can recommend this three-disc set as a stand-alone bargain. There are three other piano sonatas numbers 7, 8 and 9, but they do not appear in any catalogue of Hummel’s authorised music, so are not included in any recording of his sonatas, this one included.

The sonatas are followed by a single disc of Hummel’s piano fantasies, played here by Madoka Inui and released under licence from Naxos (8.557836A) dating from 2005. Unlike the sonatas, this disc is performed on a modern Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand, and while the difference in pianos is instantly noticeable, Inui has a lighter touch than Keene which makes this a much finer and more enlightening recording. The Fantasie for piano in G minor Op. 123 received its world premiere recording here and is a worthy opener to this disc which closes with another fine recording of the Fantasina on Le nozze di Figaro, which, while played at a swifter tempo, permits the heft of the instrument to shine through.

The next seven discs are dedicated to the chamber music, and while there is more unusual music represented here, there are also omissions, such as the Op. 30 String Quartets. Despite this, there is some wonderful music, opening with a disc of the three works for violin and piano and the Viola Sonata that contains some very nice playing, especially in the Rondo Brillant in G Op. 126. The sixth disc offers two works for guitar, an instrument that Hummel was more than proficient on, and piano: the first is the Grand Potpourri National that he composed in collaboration with Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829). Unfortunately, the fortepiano is not the best here, although it is a better instrument in the Potpourri Op. 53. Surprisingly, these are not the only works that include a guitar; the Serenades, sadly not included here, are my favourites. The disc concludes with a fine recording of the Cello Sonata Op. 104 with its wonderful opening to the first movement.

With disc seven, I am on familiar ground, with Lise Daoust’s excellent disc of the three Flute Sonatas and the Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano. Taken from a Naxos disc (8.553473) and recorded in 1995, this recording garnered three Rosettes from the Penguin Guide, and is a welcome addition in this set, even though I have the original release. The next two discs offer my favourite pieces of all Hummel’s chamber music: his Piano Trios; again, these fine works are given an excellent performance by Daniela Cammarano (violin), Luca Magariello (cello), and Alessandro Deljavan (piano). While it might not replace my favoured recording by the period ensemble Voces Intimae on Warner (2564 62595-2 / 2564 62596-2), theirs is a very strong and detailed performance of this oft-forgotten music. The recordings of the Piano Quintets are taken from two separate discs (93203 and 94023) where they are coupled with music by George Onslow. The music is lively and spirited with the E flat minor Quintet perhaps offering the listener the most inspired music which is quite Schubertian at times. They are both played here by the wonderful period ensemble the Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet who perform with poise and style and not a little excitement. After the Piano Trios, it is perhaps the two Septets that are most known, especially the second of these in C for piano, flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, cello and double bass, which has the nickname the ‘Septet Militaire’. This could be in deference to his father Johannes, a violinist and the director of the Imperial School of Military Music in Vienna. This is certainly one of the most recorded of all Hummel’s works; I have three other recordings, with those by Capricorn (CDH55214) and the Nash Ensemble (CRD 3418) leading the way, however, they both employ modern instruments whereas the recording included here is on original instruments. The overall sound is very good with the rasping trumpet certainly giving the recording a more period feel, especially when added to the lighter but tonally secure fortepiano sound.

Hummel composed around eighteen works for solo piano and orchestra, six of which are included here, a few of which are featured on the three Chandos discs that I have (CHAN 8507; 9558; 10216). These are probably Hummel’s greatest achievements in the field of orchestral music; they certainly show his ability to colour the orchestra, even more than he does in his popular Trumpet Concerto or his ballet music. The works presented here show great skill and imagination as well as a virtuosic flare for the solo piano part. I particularly like the period performance on the first disc of the piano concertos; it is well balanced, with Alessandro Commellato not at all overshadowed by the orchestra. This is a well-crafted performance which outshines that of Hae-won Chang and Hans Kann in the other two piano concertos, whose performances, while good, lack a little class, especially when compared to the performances of Stephen Hough and Howard Shelly on Chandos. On CD 13 Alessandro Commellato is joined by Stefano Barneschi in the Concerto for Piano and Violin and Orchestra Op. 17 in a performance that I find superior to that of Polina Osetinskaya and Alexander Trostiansky on Naxos (8.557595). Here the swifter tempos, as well as Commellato’s cadenza in the third movement Rondo, make this a much more listenable recording. The three discs of piano concertos conclude with Mary Louise Boehm’s account of the 24 (Grande) Etudes for Piano Op. 125. This recording is taken from a 1974 Vox Turnabout LP and the sound and playing is still quite wonderful.

The final two discs of instrumental music deal with his concertos for instruments other than the piano and include his best-known work the Trumpet Concerto. The Concerto has received many a fine recording, most of them coupled with the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, and perhaps owes its popularity to being paired with that trumpet evergreen. However, I have always liked the Hummel Concerto and here it gets a fairly good and detailed account by Ludwig Güttler, who also directs the Virtuosi Saxoniae. We also get good recordings of the Bassoon and the Mandolin Concertos and a fine recording of the Introduction, Theme and Variations for Oboe and Orchestra originally released on Naxos (8.554280), with Diego Dini-Ciacci showing impressive breath control.

We now come to the vocal works, with the first of these discs serving up the Missa Solemnis, Te Deum and Alma Virgo (94115). This is another period performance under Didier Talpain, who features on a number of recordings for Brilliant, all of which are very fine and this disc being no exception. The sound is lighter and more detailed than the New Zealand recording on Naxos (8.557193), and you also get the bonus of the Offertorium ‘Alma Virgo’, which is a real bonus. The Te Deum appears on one of the Hummel Edition recordings by Richard Hickox on Chandos (CHAN 0712), and although it is a slightly different performing edition, it shows what a shame it was that he died before he got around to recording the Missa Solemnis which is a worthy successor to the masses of Haydn. The other recording of sacred music included in this box set is the wonderful oratorio Der Durchzug durchs rote Meer. This disc is available separately on a CPO disc (777 220-2) and is quite a dramatic work depicting ‘The passage through the red sea’, with most of the solo singing being interwoven with that of the chorus. As usual with recordings of Hermann Max, this is an excellent recording, but lacks texts and translations.

The final offering is the only one of Hummel’s fifteen operas to have been recorded, Mathilde von Guise. The original release (94043) comes with comprehensive booklet notes, but sadly no text. I have tried over the years to find the text of the Brilliant Opera Collection website over the years since it came out in 2010, but sadly to no avail. The plot of the opera is based on a love triangle involving the Duke of Guise’s sister, Mathilde, the Duke’s secretary Beaufort, who is deemed to lowly to marry her, and La Baronnne, whom the Duke wishes his sister to wed. There are the usual comic twists with Mathilde and Beaufort finally united. This is a fine recording, again under the direction of Didier Talpain, who marshalls the forces at his disposal to make the best of this score.

This is an excellent ‘Edition’, which touches on most of the areas that the composer worked in, and whilst it is comprehensive, it can only scratch the surface of the body of Hummel’s work. Still, it acts as a wonderful introduction to this composer and also as a bargain priced filler for anyone looking to expand their collection. The performances and recordings are very good; only the sound of the forte piano in one or two works may be a drawback for some but I really don’t mind its sound. The booklet notes are restricted to six pages of detailed, informative and helpful biographical overview of the composer by David Moncur. I have no hesitation in recommending the set, as it has certainly brought me many hours of enjoyment.

Stuart Sillitoe

Discs 1
Piano Sonata No. 1 in C [17:46]
Piano Sonata No. 4 in C major Op. 38 [30:23]
Fantasina on Le nozze di Figaro Op. 124 [6:36]
Disc 2
Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 13 [24:35]
Piano Sonata No. 5 in F sharp minor, Op. 81 [27:41]
Disc 3
Piano Sonata in F minor Op. 20 [20:57]
Hummel, J: Piano Sonata in D major Op. 106 [30:05]
Costantino Mastroprimiano (fortepiano)
rec. April 2017, Oratorio di Santa Cecilia, Perugia
Disc 4
Fantasie in G minor, Op. 123 [12:13]
Fantasie in E flat major, Op. 18 [23:22]
Rondo quasi una fantasia in E major, Op. 19 [8:22]
6 Bagatelles, Op. 107: No. 3. La contemplazione (Una fantasia piccola) [9:03]
Fantasie ‘Recollections of Paganini' [9:46]
Fantasina on Le nozze di Figaro Op. 124 [5:43]
Madoka Inui (piano)
Disc 5
Amusement for Piano and Violin in F minor, Op. 108 [13:59]
Grand Rondeau Brillant in G major, Op. 126 [17:03]
Introduction and Variations on a German Song, Op. posth. 2 [13:50]
Sonata in E flat for piano with Accompaniment of Viola, Op. 5 No. 3 [19:36]
Aldo Orvieto (piano)
Disc 6
Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829) and Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL
Grand Potpourri National, Op. 93 [23:54]
Claudio Maccari (guitar), Giovanni Togni (fortepiano)
Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL
Potpourri for Piano and Guitar in G minor, Op. 53 [11:14]
Izhar Elias (guitar), Michael Tsalka (fortepiano)
Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 104 [22:25]
Disc 7
Flute and Piano Sonata in G Major, Op. 2, No. 2 [15:39]
Flute and Piano Sonata in D major, Op. 50 [14:41]
Flute and Piano in A major, Op. 64 [14:01]
Rondo Brillant in G Major, Op. 126 (arr. for flute and piano) [15:24]
Adagio, Variations and Rondo in A major, Op. 78 "Schöne Minka" [15:37]
Lise Daoűst (flute), Carmen Picard (piano)
Disc 8-9
Piano Trio No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12 [18:49]
Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op. 22 [13:30]
Piano Trio No. 3 in G Major, Op. 35 [14:23]
Piano Trio No. 4 in G Major, Op. 65 [15:53]
Piano Trio No. 5 in E Major, Op. 83, "Grand Trio Concertante" [30:11]
Piano Trio No. 6 in E flat major, Op. 93 [23:46]
Piano Trio No. 7 in E flat major, Op. 96 [17:24]
Daniela Cammarano (violin); Luca Magariello (cello); Alessandro Deljavan (piano)
Disc 10
Quintet in D Minor, Op. 74 [37:52]
Piano Quintet in E flat Op. 87 [22:57]
Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet
rec. 2003-2009, The Netherlands
Disc 11
Septet in D Minor, Op. 74 [36:59]
Septet in C Major, Op. 114 [30:41]
Solamente Naturali, Milos Valent, Alessandro Commellato and Aya Okuyama
Disc 12
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 85 [31:51]
Piano Concertino in G Major, Op. 73 [16:20]
Introduction & Rondo Brillant in F Major, ‘Le Retour ŕ Londres’ Op. 127 [14:59]
Alessandro Commellato (piano); Solamenti Naturali/Didier Talpain
Disc 13
Concerto for Piano, Violin & Orchestra in G Major, Op. 17 [32:43]
Alessandro Commellato (piano); Stefano Barneschi (violin); Solamenti Naturali/Didier Talpain
Piano Concerto No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 89 [37:42]
Hae-won Chang (piano; Budapest Chamber Orchestra/Tamás Pál
Disc 14
Piano Concerto No. 4 in E Major, Op. 110 [31:53]
Hans Kann (piano). Hamburg Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Beissel
24 Etudes, Op. 125 [39:49]
Mary-Louise Boehm
Disc 15
Bassoon Concerto in F Major, WoO. 23 [26:50]
Introduction, Theme and Variations for Oboe and Orchestra in F Major, Op. 102 [14:04]
Claudio Gonella (bassoon); Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia Opera/Diego Dini-Ciacci (oboe/conductor)
Clarinet Quartet in E-Flat Major, S.78 [30:08]
Fabrizio Meloni (clarinet); Andrea Pecolo (violin; Luca Ranieri (viola); Mario Finotti (cello)
rec. 14 February 1997, Sal Maffaeina, Verona
Disc 16
Trumpet Concerto in E Major, S.49 [17:02]
Virtuosi Saxoniae. Ludwig Güttler trumpet / conductor)
Mandolin Concerto in G Major, S.28 [20:03]
Edith Bauer-Slais (mandolin)Vienna Pro Musica Orchestra & Vinzenz Hladky
Rondo for Piano ‘La galante’ in G Major, Op. 120 [8:09]
Martin Galling
Violin Concerto in G Major (comp. G. Rose) [27:22]
Alexander Trostianski (violin); Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Gregory Rose
Disc 17
Te Deum in D Major, S.70 [12:25]
Missa Solemnis in C Major, WoO. 12, S.74 [40:53]
Alma Virgo in F Major, Op. 89a [6:49]
Soloists; Chorus Alea; Solamente Naturali/Didier Talpain
rec. September 2007, Studio of Slovak National Radio
Disc 18
Der Durchzug durchs rote Meer, S.33 [51:12]
Simone Kermes (soprano); Veronika Winter (soprano); Hans Joerg Mammel (tenor); Ekkehard Abele (bass); Wolf Matthias (bass); Friedrich Rheinische Kantorei; Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
rec. live 22 September 2004, Knechtsteden Abbey, Dormagen, Germany
Discs 19-20
Mathilde von Guise, Op. 100 [57:15 + 45:25]
Kristine Gailite (soprano); Philippe Do (tenor); Pierre-Yves Pruvot (baritone); Hjordis Thebault (soprano); Eva Suskova (soprano); Ondrej Saling (tenor); Martin Mikus (baritone); Marian Olszewski (tenor); Chorus Ale; Solamente Naturali/Didier Talpain
rec. September 2008, Studio of Slovak National Radio



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