The Hummel Quartets: Success in Unfamiliar Musical Territory
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you like.... Well, I don't know whom to compare Hummel's quartet music to exactly, because while it is obviously beholden to the examples of Mozart and especially Haydn, it really is a unique voice we hear. As in the concertos and sonatas, Hummel's music is closer to Mozart in its greater lyricism, less on motivic interplay than Haydn. But as Peter Holman writes in his notes to this recording, Hummel also learned a thing or two from Beethoven, and the First Quartet could be seen as Hummel's answer to Ludwig's Opus 18 Quartets. This is evident in the fairly gripping (for Hummel) minor-key introduction; the wound-up, muscular (for Hummel) first movement proper; and the springy, scherzo-like minuet with its lovely trio that seems to anticipate Schubert. This quartet is all the better for Beethoven's influence, or maybe Beethoven's goad, and yet the music is not really like Beethoven either. It's lighter, nimbler, more urbane--more content to charm than to declaim. It is entertaining music as well, and in the beautiful slow movement perhaps a little more. This might be Hummel's finest quartet movement, with a gorgeous melody that the composer varies in subtle and imaginative ways. Quartets 2 and 3 are less large-scale, closer to their 18th-century models than the First, but they're enjoyable as well, especially No. 3 with its slow movement based, it appears, on a theme from Handel's "Messiah." Just as with the First Quartet, they show us an individual and attractive musical mind at work.The Delme Quartet plays this music with great elegance and style but spirit, too--even fervency. Hummel deserves it. Excellent sound from Hyperion as well. If you like the quartets of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, you'll enjoy the music of this contemporary who composed in their shadows and yet managed to put his own unique spin on a classic form."
Hummel, Like Other Better Known Quartet Composers, Reveals G
Gerald Parker | Rouyn-Noranda, QC., Dominion of Canada | 03/29/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Johann Nepomuk Hummel's music tends to range from Biedermeyer note-spinning to very exalted heights of musical splendour; this composer's music is disconcertingly uneven, but at its best it is as good as anything among works in the canon of the "standard repertory". Fortunately, these quartets as heard in these performances, though out-of-print in the original edition, are available on the Musical Heritage Society label (release no. 5169062); get them, even if you have to join the M.H.S. for the sole privilege of ordering them!
It is unfortunate that Hummel's renown, such as it is, too often is associated with his piano music, for it is his music for chamber ensembles and his magnificent works for chous with orchestra that tend to number more consistently among his real masterpieces, as his contemporaries and later 19th century music lovers realised in times long past.
Another review (on the Amazon.ca sister WWW site) of this same recording speaks warmly of these quartets' Haydnesque, even Mozartean qualities, but they combine that Viennese classical flavour with a certain touch of the Parisian string quartet style, without the emphasis of quartets composed in Paris upon sheer virtuosity of the "quatuor concertant" type; hence they are redolent of the earlier of Luigi Cherubini's great quartets and of the charm and lilting flow of Joseph Mayseder's string chamber music (and although Cherubini was Italian but active in Paris, and Mayseder was active both in Vienna and in Paris, such quibbles are beside the point in these comparisons!). In any case, Hummel's op. 30 quartets of 1803 or 1804 predate Cherubini's quartets, and, in fact, follow hard on the heels of Beethoven's op. 18 string quartets of 1801, which makes the originality and quality of Hummel's string op. 30 string quartets (the only ones, alas, that he composed) all the more remarkable.
Of the many gems among these work's movements, the first movement of the third quartet is especially endearing, with a saucy, sexily strolling gait that conveys, in early 19th century style, a brashness that would, in the 20th century, so characterise the insouciant styles of George Gershwin or Leonard Bernstein, in very different musical language, even if only this one movement suggests quite that! The works are full of such individual touches of classy originality and of very consummate compositional mastery withal that make these string quartets essential to a full appreciation of just what a great body of achivement the Classical Era string quartet repertory, famous and less-well know, truly is!
The Delmé String Quartet plays with elegance and with a smooth musicality that are becoming rare in ensembles of recent years; the Delmé's players are not out merely to show off their virtuosity, but, rather, to use it with admirable musicality to serve the full gambit of Hummel's expressive and melodious allure in this music, of such deftly masterful part-writing for all four instruments.
WELL WORTH KNOWING
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 01/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Hummel was actually eight years younger than Beethoven and survived him by ten. The liner-notes with this disc contain the conventional talk about a supposed rivalry between radicals allegedly associated with Beethoven and conservatives who harked back to Haydn and Mozart. There is not much in this picture of the music of that period that I recognise, or that seems to me to shed much light on Hummel. His slightly younger contemporary Spohr actually wrote a `Historical Symphony' with a final movement in a style claiming to be more up-to-date than Beethoven's. So much for Beethoven's new era, as his contemporaries seem to have seen the matter.
I can find little or nothing of Mozart's idiom in Hummel's quartets, which apparently date from or around 1804. There may be some traces of Haydn, whose style, unlike Mozart's, was to some extent imitable and which can still be heard down the years in Beethoven, in Brahms, in Prokofiev and in Shostakovich. All composers, the great and the less great, write to some extent in a musical language common to their generation, and that is how I hear Hummel in relation to Beethoven. There may even be a quotation from Handel's `Comfort ye' in the andante of the third quartet, as there may also be in the introduction to Mendelssohn's Rondo Capriccioso for solo piano, but the resemblance is not beyond the reach of coincidence. I hear these quartets much as I hear Beethoven's own first set of quartets opus 18, before the great man introduced into music what was not so much a new idiom much less a new language as an unprecedented forcefulness of expression. This set of 3 from Hummel are his total contribution to the quartet form. They strike me as being masterly without being outright masterpieces, and I for one could certainly do with hearing them more often by way of a change from the familiar works by greater men.
The recorded quality on the disc is admirable, and there is only one question in my mind in respect of the playing or interpretation. The third movement of the second quartet is called a minuet, but marked `allegro con fuoco'. My own hunch is that the tempo here is too slow. I'm not suggesting that it should be taken as an outright one-beat-to-the-bar scherzo, which is how some so-called minuets by Beethoven and by Haydn himself need to be played. The piece has the feel of a Laendler about it, and that is quite compatible with a brisk pace, as in the first of Brahms's waltzes. That is the sort of speed I would have liked here, especially as the movement is actually made the longest of the four in this particular quartet when taken as the Delme quartet take it. In music of this period that is highly unlikely to have been what was intended.
Otherwise no complaints at all. I am pleased to have these quartets as an enhancement to my own collection, along with a recent disc by Stephen Hough of some piano sonatas by the same composer. Recommended cordially."