Hummel: Sappho von Mitilene – ballet suite; Das Zauberschloss – ballet suite; Twelve Waltzes and Coda

COMPOSERS: Hummel
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Hummel
WORKS: Sappho von Mitilene – ballet suite; Das Zauberschloss – ballet suite; Twelve Waltzes and Coda
PERFORMER: London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10415
It’s a rare treat to find a disc of ‘premiere recordings’ of a 19th-century composer who, though neglected after his death, is now pretty thoroughly reinstated. Hummel wrote this ballet music in partnership with an influential Viennese choreographer. Divorced from its lost dramatic plot to explain what the dances depicted, the music must stand alone. The sections of the Sappho Suite are long enough to do so, with a splendid Overture, a grave and moving ‘Offering’, a March with ingeniously uneven phrase-lengths and an exquisite movement with prominent horn solo. An attractive sequence of short sections conjures up the vision of individuals from the corps de ballet showing off their skills before the music erupts into a hectic ‘Furies’ dance. Das Zauberschloss fares less well. While probably very effective ballet music, without plot or dancing it becomes little more than a succession of musical gestures whose dramatic meaning can only be guessed.

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The Waltzes are a dozen half-minute movements played without a break, an attractive vignette of a public dance hall in 1817 Vienna.

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Howard Shelley’s light touch, fresh and colourful orchestral playing, and excellent recording, make this very well worth hearing on its own account, not simply as a rediscovered rarity. George Pratt