Mandolin Concerto in G
Trumpet Concerto in E
Ballet Music for Das Zauberglockchen
Alison Stephens (mandolin)
Urban Agnas (trumpet)
London Mozart Players
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2001
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 9925
Duration: 60 minutes
No doubt some wag has suggested that there can be few things worse in music than a concerto for mandolin – unless it’s one for two (Vivaldi gave us both). Such an opinion holds little water with Hummel’s example, a thoroughly attractive piece, Mozartian in its gentle tripping and relaxed sense of direction, Haydnesque in its light textures. Hummel collectors with a version already will wonder why Chandos is claiming a first recording. Alison Stephens has discovered an alternative document, in Hummel’s own hand, that differs both from the standard text as edited by Vincenz Hladky, and the composer’s emendations, which Hladky ignored.
I’m not sure that such scholarship is worthy of the music itself – thoroughly enjoyable though it is – but for Hummelians and mandolinists, it will no doubt be of interest. Not having heard the ’original’ myself – the notes reveal that this ’new’ version is close to Hummel’s Piano Concertino in G, Op.73, which Shelley has recorded on CHAN 9558, one of four Hummel/Shelley CDs now on Chandos – I will admit to being in no rush to hear the standard edition. I wonder though if Alison Bury could have also recorded that? There’s room for it, and she’s a fine player; the mandolin itself with its Neapolitan connotations, Venetian gondolas and the like, makes a nice sound, which attracted Mahler and Schoenberg it should be remembered.
The Trumpet Concerto is a wonderful piece, quite individual in its tunes and orchestration; spacious and songful, the slow movement is effectively an operatic aria, and the outer movements are sprightly, urbane and deliciously unpredictable. Urban Agnas is a splendid player, absolutely secure, generous of phrase and dextrous; he resists speed for its own sake and is a very articulate player. I don’t care for Shelley’s ritardando just as the soloist enters – it spoils the surprise – and the hesitation launching the finale is a tad affected. A fine performance nonetheless with plenty of bustle and humour – and it’s a piece that’s always welcome.
Both soloists are very well recorded being integrated into the whole and proving that soloists do not require an aural spotlight to make an effect. The recording, nearly too spacious, is a fine mix of perspective and detail.
The ballet music is a curiosity. Written ’as a finale for a Weimar performance in 1837 of the opera La Clochette by Ferdinand Herold’, there are five movements, all of which are light, melodious and, not inappropriately, French-sounding. The orchestration is colourful, not least in Hummel’s use of percussion. The overture is also curious in that it quotes three national anthems – including what was then (1814) God Save the King (I didn’t stand!); again, it’s all very pleasant. Both are first recordings.
As for Johann Nepomuk Hummel himself (1778-1837), he was a pupil of Mozart and Haydn, succeeded the latter at the Court of Esterhazy, was a fine and much-travelled pianist, a music publisher and, it appears, a warm and generous man – attributes that shine through his music.