HUMMEL: 24 Grande Etudes, Op. 125; Troise Amusements en forme des Caprices, Op. 105; Rondo brillant, Op. 109; Rondo Villageois, Op. 122 – John Khouri, fortepiano and Broadwood piano – Music&Arts

by | Aug 19, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HUMMEL: 24 Grande Etudes, Op. 125; Troise Amusements en forme
des Caprices, Op. 105; Rondo brillant, Op. 109; Rondo Villageois, Op.
122 – John Khouri, fortepiano and Broadwood piano – Music&Arts
CD-1165, 75:39 (Distrib. Albany)****:

The music of Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) represents the stylistic
link between Mozart and Chopin, a combination of galant virtuosity and
digital savoir faire, with more than occasional glances back to Bach,
Cramer, and Beethoven, while hinting at the harmonic excursions and
bravura prowess yet to be demonstrated by Schumann, Chopin, and
Gottschalk. The set of 24 Etudes (1833) are literally Hummel’s final
exercises in composition, since health problems soon beset him and
curtailed his active career. Organized around the circle of fifths, the
Etudes alternate tonic major and tonic minor until F# Major, where
Hummel then introduces an etude in D-flat Major and then proceeds to
A-flat, E-flat, B-flat, and F, and so does not end in D Minor as does
Chopin.

Robert Schumann denigrated Hummel’s effort, although he expressed some
admiration for the E minor etude. The Hummel etudes are rather brief,
economical, and curiously restrained for a pianist of renowned bravura
technique as was Hummel. There are some one-third of the etudes whose
demands are quite athletic, almost Lisztian, and half a dozen or so
harken directly to Bach, like the B-flat, which is almost a
transposition of the gigue in Bach’s First Partita. The B-flat Minor
etude is a kind of Grand Guignol study, shimmering, eerie and
tragically histrionic in character.

The Troise Amusements are more lively and extended in character, having
a salons pep and gaiety reminiscent of Gottschalk’s Creole sensibility
and a more than a  touch of Beethoven’s Ecossaises. Polka,
mazurka, and waltz freely intertwine – an eclectic blend whose debts to
Schubert’s laendler might be in order. The last of the set, A La
Styrienne, is a yodeling song in D which modulates to the minor mode
and then to B-flat Major. Rife with roulades, suspensions, and
polyphonic octaves, it has a kind of uneasy sense of transition that
Chopin and Liszt would iron out with their own rhetorical devices. The
Rondo in B Minor (1825) aspires to some grandiosity, having the
materials for a truncated sonata movement. Its bravura style might pass
for Mendelssohn or Moscheles. As played on the 1832 Broadwood, the
action for me is a bit hollow, but the light action gives the rapid
passages a lithe sweep. The so-called Village Rondo (1831) has its own
charms, with an opening bagpipe drone which evolves into a music-box
texture. Its martial figures might have influenced Liszt’s later Wild
Jagd etude. Deft and loving realizations of all these pieces by John
Khouri, although the original fortepiano and Broadwood sounds may be
only for antique tastes.

–Gary Lemco

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