musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778 - 1837): "Sonatas for Fortepiano and Violin/Viola, op. 5"

Michael Jarvis, fortepiano; Paul Luchkow, violina, violab

rec: [private residence], Greater Vancouver, BC
Marquis - MAR 81419 ( 2011) (62'53")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata in B flat, op. 5,1a; Sonata in F, op. 5,2a; Sonata in E flat, op. 5,3b

Johann Nepomuk Hummel is a composer whose oeuvre is in the process of being rediscovered. He still is in the shadows of the Viennese classical masters Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Howver, the list of recordings is considerable, and continues to grow. Among his most popular works are his piano concertos and his piano trios. The third of the three sonatas op. 5 has been recorded several times. That may well be to do with the fact that it is scored for viola. As there are not that many solo pieces for this instrument it is understandable that this sonata has entered the repertoire of viola players. The present recording seems to be the first of the whole set if I am to believe ArkivMusic.

Hummel is often considered a rather conservative composer. That might well explain why his music was so soon forgotten after his death. He was the last great representative of the classical style, and during his life he held Mozart - who was his teacher for some years - in high esteem. It was the emergence of the romantic piano virtuosos which led to his downfall. Even so, the likes of Liszt and Chopin played his music, and the latter was influenced by Hummel in his own compositions for the piano. Hummel was also on friendly terms with many great composers of the next generation, such as Schumann, Schubert and Weber. In some respects he was quite modern. He advocated the use of equal temperament and a universal standard pitch which would make the life of travelling musicians much easier. Considering the continuing debate on intellectual property rights it is interesting that Michael Jarvis, in his liner-notes, mentions that Hummel championed these rights as well as musicians' copyrights. That is reason enough for his name to be held in high esteem.

The three sonatas on this disc bear witness to Hummel's preference for the classical style. If you like your Mozart, you will certainly enjoy these pieces as well. They date from around 1798 and are in three movements. Most of these are in a moderate tempo. Moderation seems to be the name of the game here, as Jarvis underlines. Romantic rubato is absent; Jarvis refers to Czerny who stated that Hummel himself played in such a way that "the tempo was so constant that you could let a metronome beat to it". Hummel is also very specific in his instructions in regard to articulation and dynamics. The second movement of the Sonata in F is an andantino con grand' espressione, and this expression is achieved by the two instruments playing sotto voce e legato assai.

These performances have two features which I especially appreciate. Firstly, the recording was made in a private residence. The acoustic is pretty dry, but also has a great amount of intimacy. As a listener you sit very close to the performers, and this could well reflect the way this kind of repertoire was played in Hummel's days. For that reason no detail is lost. Secondly, these sonatas are specifically scored for keyboard and violin or viola, in that order. It means that the fortepiano has the lead, and that has been strictly observed in this recording. Everyone who regularly listens to this kind of repertoire will know that this is often ignored, and the melody instrument is given too dominant a position. The two instruments also blend wonderfully well, partly due to the lack of a wide vibrato in the violin and the viola.

Michael Jarvis plays an anonymous instrument with Viennese action of around 1800. It has a bassoon stop which is obviously not used here. The moderator is effectively switched on in the second movement of the Sonata in F mentioned before. The damper pedal is sparingly used because Hummel had a conservative view as to its use, and there are no pedal indications in the scores. These things confirm that we have here two very sensitive artists who really want the music to speak as it was intended by Hummel. The intimate surroundings not only reflect the historical conditions, they also fit the approach of these performers who have delivered a compelling interpretation which makes a lasting impression.

Johan van Veen ( 2013)

Relevant links:

Michael Jarvis

CD Reviews