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Hummel & Moscheles Sonatas for Piano & Cello

Jiří Bárta and Hamish Milne

Hyperion CDA67521

New to me, but well represented on the Supraphon catalogue, Jiří Bárta comes to Hyperion with good credentials. This is a peculiar CD to which I have had mixed reactions.

The Hummel sonata starts "amabile e grazioso", which description applies to the whole work (1824). There is a little darkening in the Ballade, suggesting depths of feeling, and the final Rondo gives Hamish Milne scope for piano virtuosity. The cello is very much an equal partner, and the whole work was worth ressurecting.

The Moscheles (1851) is likewise a conjunction of equals; but I found it dull by comparison. There is an interesting fill-up, three of ten Melodic Contrapuntal studies Moscheles arranged by from the Bach '48' preludes (reminding me of my piano teacher at school, who at Assembl played only the Preludes from the 48y, thinking the fugues unsuitable for schoolchildren). They sound pleasantly un-Bachlike and would be fine for encores. The CD offers short measure at 65 mins; there would have been plenty of space for the other seven?

We are told by John Warrack that Hummel liked light-toned Viennese pianos, whereas Moscheles preferred more powerful Clementi and Erard instruments. Also that Bárta, who is an enthusiastic motorcyclist and avid photographer, has always been interested in period instruments.

So Jiří Bárta plays a "modern cello" and Hyperion has opted perversely for a modern piano. Might it possibly be because the Medtner pioneer Hamish Milne, a former pupil and now teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, is bound as a Steinway Artist?

I felt a like worry too with the newest box of songs by Schubert's friends and contemporaries (the slighter examples would be more engaging with a piano of Schubert's time) but desisted from complaining because it is reasonable that Graham Johnson wanted consistency through his project begun in 1988, before this issue had become so inescapable.

To me, a frequent visitor to the Piano Gallery to listen to the RAM's unique collection of early keyboard instruments, this seems a lost opportunity. I found myself hearing the sonatas as if in transcriptions, and will not want to return to this disc.

Perhaps Milne will try to organise a York Gate Research Seminar around these two composers, who were often bracketed together as the two piano virtuosi of their time?

Responses invited?

© Peter Grahame Woolf