Monday 3 November 2014

The Gould Piano Trio’s fine performances of Hummel’s piano trios reveal just what a fine composer he could be on this new release from Naxos

The Austrian composer and pianist Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was born in Pressburg, then a part of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy, now Bratislava the capital of Slovakia. He studied under Mozart and, like that composer, he was taken on a European tour by his father. Whilst in London he met Haydn and received instruction from Muzio Clementi.

On his return to Vienna, Hummel met the young Beethoven with whom he developed a rather volatile friendship.  In 1804, he became Konzertmeister to Prince Esterházy's at Eisenstadt receiving the title of Kapellmeister after Haydn’s death in 1809. Hummel later became Kapellmeister in Stuttgart and finally Kapellmeister in Weimar until his death in 1837. Hummel’s compositions include opera, choral, concertos, chamber works and piano works.

Of his chamber works he composed seven piano trios, four of which are included on a new release from Naxos featuring the Gould Piano Trio



The Gould Piano Trio, Lucy Gould (violin), Alice Neary (cello) and Benjamin Frith (piano), gained an international reputation after winning the 1991 Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, since then performing at major venues in Europe and North America. They have made a large number of recordings for the Chandos, Somm, Champs Hill and Naxos record labels.

This new release for Naxos is the first volume in a complete cycle of Hummel’s piano trios and features the second, third, sixth and seventh trios.

The Allegro con moto of Piano Trio No.6 in E flat major, Op.93 opens with some lovely mellow sonorous tones from the players soon leading to a nicely flowing Allegro where there is some terrific interaction between these players, bringing an infectious joy. They provide a fine rubato and flexibility of tempi with terrific ensemble.

There is a beautifully relaxed and flowing Un poco larghetto with each player providing lovely individual touches in Hummel’s winning melody. There is more terrific ensemble in the Rondo: Allegro con brio that brings an attractive and energetic conclusion, full of energy.

Hummel’s Piano Trio No. 2 in F major, Op.22 opens with a reflective little theme for piano then the strings before gaining in tempo in this Allegro moderato. There are such light textures and taut playing as the opening theme is developed. Hummel could find such attractive ideas, played here with a lively sense of engaging humour.

The Andante con variazioni has a great sense of forward flow, driven by the piano of Benjamin Frith with Hummel allowing each of the strings to have their head through these fine variations.

There is terrific playing in the Rondo alla turca: Vivace, full of energy and precision with these players revealing subtle little moments of lovely string textures. Occasionally the music finds a kind of gypsy rhythmic quality before the movement speeds to the coda. The Gould trio show this to be an intoxicatingly attractive movement.

The Allegro con brio that opens the Piano Trio No. 3 in G major, Op.35 has a lovely little skipping theme introduced by the piano and picked up by the strings – before moving off and developing. The theme is shared between the violin and piano with lovely little touches finely brought out by this Trio.

The Tempo di menuetto has an underlying theme of the utmost simplicity to which Hummel adds drama and variantions of tempo, creating an attractive movement.  The Gould Piano Trio pick up on all of Hummel’s little changes of tempo and dynamics.

The Rondo: Vivace e scherzando is another of Hummel’s terrific Rondo Allegros, full of energy and intricate writing, with this Trio pushing ahead with their customary panache and fine ensemble, observing every little nuance before the terrific coda. This is a very fine performance indeed.

Finally we come to the last of Hummel’s seven piano trios, the Piano Trio No. 7 in E flat major, Op.96. The Allegro con spirito opens with a lovely unison string melody and an attractive piano motif before moving ahead with some fine, rapid string passages and an energetic piano part. This Trio really have the measure of Hummel, finding so many little points of interest with more really fine, taut playing and attention to Hummel’s little details.

The Andante quasi allegretto is presented with a beguiling simplicity in the opening before being allowed to develop through some terrific moments.  There is a marvellous rhythmic passage for piano against the strings before the gentle coda.

The concluding Rondo alla russa: Allegro Vivace heads straight off with a joyful, rhythmic Rondo Allegro with more terrific interplay between these artists with another fine theme, supposedly Russian in origin.

These fine performances reveal just what a fine composer Hummel could be. The Gould Piano Trio receive an excellent recording made at Champs Hill, West Sussex, England and there are useful booklet notes.

I look forward very much to the remaining trios in this series.

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