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Hummel Project evening

Haydn Piano Trio in A flat, Hob. XV:14
Beethoven/Hummel Symphony No. 7
Hummel Piano Quintet in D minor, Op. 74a [1816]

Ian Christians
Hummel Ensemble
Andrew Brownell piano

London Chamber Music Society at Kings Place, London, 20 February 2011

A long, very interesting but frustrating Hummel Project evening (compounded by the vagaries of London's public transport) was finally vindicated by a fine performance of the Piano Quintet op 74a of 1816 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel.

This, a reduction from the Piano Septet with flute, oboe, horn viola, cello & double bass, with the same scoring as the 22 year old Schubert's Trout Quintet, 1819, was given to acclamation by the eponymous Hummel Ensemble; it is superbly scored to showcase the pianist's virtuosity and gives the violist and cellist opportunities to shine, with the double-bass underpinning the proceedings. Dare I suggest that it compares well with its model, Schubert's ever popular favourite, which had been particularly enjoyed once more a few days earlier at St Olave's Church in the City. (At my time of life one is more interested in "collecting" unfamiliar repertory than in hearing yet another performance of a repertory standard.)

The evening began with an illustrated "What If?" pre-concert talk by Ian Christians, an impassioned Hummel devotee who introduced a book he is writing, with a view towards a possible film in the Amadeus genre.

An comparison of Beethoven's compositons at age 33 with Hummel's profuse output by the same age, with numerous large scale operas, masses, ballets, symphonies and concertos, was illustrated with brief fragments of recordings. Hummel married Elisabeth Röckel, Beethoven's Elise, the secret dedicatee of Fur Elise who had rejected Beethoven, thereby finishing his hopes of matrimony.

Hummel's marriage was happy, but at a cost. Needing to keep a growing family, he all but stopped composing except for piano compositions for his own concertising as a virtuoso pianist. Those became what he was recognised for, until they too were eclipsed, and he became completely relegated to history during his Elise's very long widowhood... Is it time for a full revival now?

In his later life Hummel supplemented his income additionally by producing arrangements for sale to the thriving domestic chamber music market, many of them of Beethoven's successful orchestral music; those endeavours made for financial success and indeed riches; in parallel Beethoven descended into deafness, suicidal depression, poverty andincreasing "wierdness", with diminished output of serious works until his late 3rd-period mterworks. These contrasts have fascinated Ian Christians and he is developing the Röckel/Elise theme in the form of a novel.

His Hummel Project’s objectives are to increase awareness of the composer and encourage performance of his music, principally through internet publishing of unavailable scores. Christians also has the 3rd International Hummel Festival at Coubeyrac near Bordeaux in May; mainly for the well-heeled, I guess.

He has hopes to persuade Sir Roger Norrington to give a world premiere of the Ballet Sappho von Mitilene (1812), even though admitting his own reservations about "original instruments". For the concert we had the Kings Place's Steinway, which proved entirely suitable for the Quintet*. Less convincing was Hummel's arrangement for flute, violin, cello and piano of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. The slow movement had attractions but for the rest, the little group was over-parted, and maybe nowadays it has served its purpose and should return to the library shelves?**

The concert left us all invigorated and convinced that Hummel does merit Ian Christians' persuasive advocacy.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also on Musical Pointers: Hummel Chamber Music and Missa Solemnis

The Op 74 Piano Quintet is available from Amazon, with the Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet
- - *Andrew Brownell comments: " - - If the opportunity presented itself, I would leap at the chance to play it on fortepiano! It seems a bit silly to exert oneself so much playing all those notes by Hummel on the heavy action of the modern piano..."

** But hear Beethoven/Beethoven Symphony No 2 for piano tro !