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Franz HUMMEL (b. 1939)
33 Hercher Variations (2019) [44:30]
Christoph Preiss (piano)
rec. 2019, Stadhalle Neutraubling, Germany
TYXART TXA19134 [44:30]

Franz Hummel has popped up on the TYXart label before with something called 24 ╔tudes on a Stumbling Bass (review), and a little further reading tells us that he has also written his own Diabelli Variations. The Hercher Variations are named after Hummel’s friend and patron of the arts Roland F.O. Hercher. Its theme is a small and slightly sentimental waltz, of which we are told that “its substance is pieced together from casual sequences of letters and cryptic alphabet mutations drawn from the Christian and surnames “Roland F.O. Hercher and Sieglinde Pirzer”.

These two people are further characterised in the variations that follow, though unlike Elgar’s Enigma Variations there are no names attached to these 33 so it’s up to us to decide which is which, not that any of this really matters. In his own words, Hummel has declared that “fortunately, at the age of eighty, one is old enough to bend a few wizened rules of life from time to time with late adolescent satisfaction. Work on the composition becomes more and more pleasurable and the imagination increases, if one simply throws one’s ideologies overboard.”

These variations are all brief, with only a few going over two-minutes in duration. They are full of fun and verve, including little studies in counterpoint, and stylistic ventures into jazz and numerous other genres, though the whole doesn’t sound like a row of pastiche numbers. Some variations could be dance moments in which one imagines ballet dancers at the bar, or indeed night-owls in a smoky and altogether different bar. There is some of the spikiness of the youthful Hindemith here, with perhaps the ghost of Chopin or Prokofiev elsewhere – again, I’m not intending to point towards stylistic imitation but trying to fish out some references so you have an impression of the sheer variety on display here. There is much more content here than you might expect from the outset, and the 45-minute duration is substantial enough, the theme almost but not quite returning toward the end perhaps as a nod towards Bach’s Goldberg Variations; the final tango-like variation perking us up and both waving farewell and suggesting that we could easily go around and do it all again.

When it comes to display, it is remarkable to consider that this work has been recorded here by an 18-year-old piano virtuoso, Christoph Preiss, who is a student of Franz Hummel and not only swiftly learned the Hercher Variations from memory, but also performs them with tremendous panache. The piano recording is good if not quite demonstration quality, the instrument a responsive sounding B÷sendorfer 225. Preiss has already recorded three albums for the TYXart label, and is clearly a name to look out for in future.

Dominy Clements

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