The reputation of Johann Nepomuk Hummel-child prodigy, student of Mozart, successor of Haydn and Beethoven' rival, widely-travelled piano virtuoso, composer, conductor, influential teacher and ingenious businessman-is once more on the rise. His variations
Quoted from the previous revue: "Compared to Liszt's operatic transcriptions - or Beethoven's "Diabelli Variations," - these works can seem a little tame." It is "interesting" that people are still not bored by this kind of hackneyed commonsense wisdom. Of course: Liszt is famous, Hummel is not, therefore he is less good than Liszt. What did we learned from this statement? Nothing. This is a mere truism; worse, an untrue truism. Why not to say: Compared to Brahms, Beethoven, whomever - including Hummel - most of Liszt's piano works are empty showpieces, exhibitionist acrobatics - ? If we would compare any composer with the few greatest giants like Bach or Beethoven, all of them would fall short. But usually they are not compared and need not be compared, either with the handful of giants or with each other; neither need Hummel, who is a first-rate original composer. By the way, Liszt himself had an incomparably better opinion of Hummel than people still have irrespective of some huge masterpieces of his that fortunately have become available on various CDs.
As to the excellence of Madoka Inui's playing, I totally agree. (This statement is not a truism, since Mrs Inui is not an over-famous pianist.)
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Like many virtuoso composer/performers of the day, Johann Nepomuk Hummel wrote arrangements and variations on popular melodies. And in that day (the early 1800's), the best-known melodies were to be found in operas.
This collection features a number of Hummel's operatic arrangements for solo piano. All show a wealth of musical imagination. Some of the source material is familiar to us today, such Mozart's "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail" and Gluck's "Armide." Others are a little more obscure. In a few cases, such as Hummel's own fairy opera "Eselshaut," his piano arrangements are the only surviving versions of the work.
As may one might expect, these variations and grand fantasias are full of attractive melodies. Compared to Liszt's operatic transcriptions - or Beethoven's "Diabelli Variations," these works can seem a little tame. But Hummel's inventiveness runs closer to that of Mozart and Haydn. So while they're excessively showy, they're all solidly constructed pieces of music.
Especially attractive is his variations of "Vivat Bacchus" from Mozart's "Die Entfuhrung." Hummel takes the aria through several permutations that vary in tone from humorous to serious. I also found his simple counterpoint in the Grand Fantasi on "Oberons Zauberhorn" particularly charming.
Pianist Madoka Inui plays these works with precision and sensitivity. Her phrasing is impeccable, giving the music a sense of forward motion while maintaining a little of the emotional reserve characteristic of Hummel's late-classical style.
Pleasant - and in some cases - thought-provoking arrangements that make for an enjoyable listening experience.
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