WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 4 in E; Concerto for Piano and Violin, Op. 17
PERFORMER: Hagai Shaham (violin); London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9687
Hummel’s technique was legendary. One account tells of an audience climbing on to their chairs the better to see his double trills; John Field exclaimed ‘either you are the Devil or you are Hummel!’. He began as child prodigy and pupil of Mozart, continued as virtuoso and successor to Haydn, and was finally outdated by the fast-changing tastes of Romanticism.
From today’s perspective, his Classical tunefulness and dazzling facility delight again, particularly in the E major Piano Concerto. It opens with Haydnesque angularity, linked by Beethovenian motivic play to a lyrical Mozartian second subject. But if Hummel’s stylistic identity is elusive, his pianism is arresting – and Shelley’s technical control outstanding. Striking lightness of touch on a modern Steinway mirrors Hummel’s delicate Viennese piano. Recording balance completes the picture of open-textured playing in front of refined orchestral strings and lovely wind and horn dialogues. The Andante second movement is melodically captivating, the jaunty rondo finale charmingly predictable until some good-humoured harmonic digressions disturb the flow.
The double concerto, written 20 years earlier, overflows with less developed ideas contained largely within closed forms – variations and a lively rondo finale – though the matching of dissimilar soloists, violin and piano, is ingenious. George Pratt