WORKS: Piano Sonatas: in E flat, Op. 13 No. 6; in F minor, Op. 20; La contemplazione, Op. 107 No. 3
PERFORMER: Susan Alexander-Max (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0765
Full marks to Susan Alexander-Max for revealing Hummel on his intended instrument, an 1814 Viennese fortepiano. While tone is fragile compared to a modern grand, the colours are striking.
Hummel’s piano technique was phenomenal, but this doesn’t necessarily imply extreme velocity, exciting though it can be, and Max chooses more moderate tempos than many on disc (Howard Shelley, also on Chandos, polishes off Op. 13 in 21 minutes to Max’s 32).
Her expansive approach allows the pulse of the F minor Sonata’s opening, for example, to flex expressively within Hummel’s own sudden tempo changes.
At times she loses some musical impulsion by caressing every motif (in the Adagio maestoso of Op. 20), and by some less than spirited allegros – though a fortepiano repeats a single note more slowly than a modern instrument, it imposes no absolute ‘speed limit’.
Best is La contemplazione, a ‘little fantasia’. Its serene opening includes charming dialogue between the upper line and bass, while the middle section’s shifting tonalities support alluring lyricism. George Pratt