Reviews: Hummel: Piano Concerti
The MHS Review 403, VOL. 12, NO.7 • 1988
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Donald R. Vroon, American Record Guide, (March/ April 1988)
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 85; Piano Concerto in B Minor, Op. 89.
Stephen Hough, Piano;
English Chamber Orchestra;
Bryden Thomson, Conductor.
Many of Hummel's concerti were available in this part of the world on the Turnabout label from the mid-'60s until a year or two ago. Those who bought them discovered a handful of very attractive piano concerti. As I write, I'm listening to Turnabout 34028, the A minor Concerto with Martin Galling (he's good) and the Stuttgart Philharmonic (they're not. Their strings are sour and their oboe sounds like a kazoo.) under Alexander Paulmuller. We who bought these records were so happy to have this marvelous music that we tried not to notice the sour notes and the cuts. But we often did hope another orchestra would discover this music.
The English Chamber Orchestra isn't as big as what we had in mind, but they play very well together and make a substantial sound. The violins are in tune, the oboist took lessons, and Bryden Thomson provides knowledgeable leadership.
Stephen Hough is at least as good as Martin Galling, but has a heavier touch. That makes these concerti seem a little bigger than they are, perhaps; but no harm done. Tempi are fairly deliberate; more emphatic points are made than with Galling's fleeter approach. The A minor, with its tricky, jazzy rhythms, is especially well done. There are eight Hummel piano concerti; these would be nos. 6 and 7 if we include the piano arrangement of the Mandolin Concerto.
I think of Hummel as a cross between Mozart and Chopin without the genius of either. His music is as good as the young Chopin's; these concerti are as well-crafted and attractive as Chopin's, which they strongly resemble. I was also reminded of the "La ci darem" Variations. In fact, I think it likely that Chopin used Hummel as a model for his concertante compositions. In those days Hummel was considered the equal of Beethoven; no one would think that now. This music really is delightful; and the recording, over 66 minutes long, leaves nothing to be desired.