Hummel Pie

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Hummel: Piano Sonatas Nos 1, 3 & 6

Ian Hobson, piano

Arabesque ABQ6564

Johann Nepomuk Hummel is not a name you come across every day, if ever. In his day, the early 1880s, Hummel was triply famed as a child prodigy, Mozart’s best student and the successor to Haydn, starting in 1804, as the Esterhazy’s private concertmaster. And no, he’s not also the creator of those zaftig porcelain figurines ornamenting you in-laws living room. Today, Hummel is known mainly for his concertos and piano sonatas.

Three of the latter appear here. Unsurprisingly, the sonatas are Mozart-Lite: the 1st sonata sounds like a sketch for any number of Mozart’s middle-period sonatas. There a few moments of the brooding romanticism then beginning to trend in the era: the opening of the Sonata No. 3 is actually quite dark, before tinkling off to more familiar terrain, only hinting at it’s bleak introduction in the next two movements.

In the Sonata No. 6, Hummel returns for the most part to his roots. Yet there’s a flash in the 2nd movement (oddly named Un Scherzo all’antico) where the composer spins out music that could be mistaken for late Beethoven, before again skirting back to Mozartian classicism.

This 1980s digital recording from Arabesque has a very capable pianist in Ian Hobson, though Stephen Hough’s 2003 performance on Hyperion (he includes 3 other sonatas recently authenticated as Hummel’s) is perhaps even better. A painted engraving of a stormy boat race in Hummel’s day decks out the sleeve, and you can practically feel the spray coming off the waves.

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