Hummel – His Music
I have yet to hear a Hummel work that is not attractive and interesting. Many are much more than that and he seldom outstays his welcome, conciseness being a frequent feature. Here then is my path for an introduction to Hummel the composer. Star ratings for recommended recordings, where given, relate to the review in the Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music 2008.
For the Hummel Starter Pack I recommend the following six works, the last three show Hummel’s lighter side:
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.85. (1816)
This wonderful work has an orchestral introduction of a magnificent swagger, which then, with the cellos, dissolves into a jaunty march, before building a magnificent momentum. Hummel’s mastery of the orchestra is clear, and it is nearly four minutes before the piano gently enters. Great melodies and virtuosity and delicacy abound and you are swept along on a great tide. The short Larghetto is declamatory in its orchestral introduction, before a solo piano enters – beautiful, and Chopin was only 6 years old when it as written! The music eases gently into the final Rondo, which via a succession of melodies and a fugue breaks into a dramatic virtuosic display with dazzling finger–work.
Recommended recording: **** Stephen Hough, English Chamber Orchestra, cond. Bryden Thomson. Chandos CHAN8507
Score: With parts, also chamber version available from Orpheus&Bacchus.
Te Deum (1805)
Trumpets usher in violins and a crescendo that launches the choir. Next there is a repeat of the introduction and we are launched into a state of exaltation, helped by a soprano line that spends much time in the high registers. There are intense quiet passages of great solemnity. The conclusion of this short work – just 12 minutes long – starts with a fugue and ends in a glorious blaze of trumpets and thrilling modulations. One of the greatest settings of the Te Deum!
Recommended recording: *** Tower Voices, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, cond. Uwe Grodd. Naxos: 8.557193
Ballet Suite: Sappho von Mitilene, Op.68 (1812)
Hummel chose not to write any symphonies, but the suite from this ballet score is a wonderful showcase for his writing for orchestra. It has an impressive overture and 11 numbers of great variety of form and mood in the recording below. The slow numbers are my favourites – try the Larghetto sostenuto assai, and listen to the horns and clarinets and the following Allegro Vivace. Beauty and wit to leave you smiling and chuckling. The Finale is magnificent music, a superb flute and orchestra number, Andante to start with, moving into Allegro. The scintillating orchestral ending is one of the best I have ever heard, it really swings! (The last time I felt so bowled over was when I first heard Mozart’s Champagne Aria many years ago – it has the same exhilaration and effervescence!)
Recommended Recording: London Mozart Players, cond. Howard Shelley CHAN10457
This four movement work exploits the clarinets, oboes, bassoons and horns to mutual advantage. A lively first movement is followed by a melancholy Adagio, then a lilting Menuetto. A rollicking, humorous and exuberant Rondo finishes the work in fine style, particularly as the tempo surges as the theme re–appears for the last time. Guaranteed to bring the house down!
Recommended recording: Consortium Classicum, MDG 301 0440–2
Piano Trio No.1, Op.12
Opens with a violin theme over piano arpeggios, then moves into a second theme of great humorous potential. Cello and violin take turns at the lead, the piano providing a brilliant back–cloth. A singing Andante that could melt a heart of stone follows and the work concludes with a brilliant Presto, with much humour again. This is happy music–making with delightful tunes – and there are six more piano trios!
Recommended recording:*** Trio Parnassus, MDG 3307/8
Fanatasie, Op.18 (1805)
Effectively a grand sonata for piano. The first movement, marked Allegro con Fuoco, is highly dramatic and melodic. It melts into a Larghetto e cantabile of great beauty that builds to a passionate climax. The last two movements, an Allegro assai followed immediately by a Presto create a thrilling conclusion
Recommended recording: Madoka Inui, Naxos: 8.557836
Download score from IMSLP
After this just follow your instincts by the preferred genre.