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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The four concertante pieces on this imaginative disc were written between 1820 and 1833, primarily as vehicles to show off Hummel’s virtuosity at the keyboard. The Grand Rondeau brillant is subtitled The Return to London; Hummel wrote it in celebration of his return to the British capital after an absence of 40 years. The main Rondo theme is aptly jaunty, prompting a sequence of free variations, punctuated by improvisatory passages. The Variations and Finale offer a similar free formula, again with another catchy main theme, while Oberon’s Magic Horn uses material from Weber’s Oberon, which was being performed at the time. It is a colourful piece with a strikingly dramatic opening and with a storm sequence full of tremolos and horn fanfares. The Variations in F date from 1820, a simpler set of variations, well varied, with a cadenza near the end and an emphatic close. Christopher Hinterhuber, who has already recorded piano music by C.P.E. Bach for Naxos, is a first-rate soloist, accompanied by the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest in Sweden, under its German music director, Uwe Grodd. An excellent disc of long-buried rarities, well worth hearing.

Colin Clarke
Fanfare, August 2008

… It is unalloyed delight from first to last. More, the recording is exemplary. Sean Lewis has acted as both producer and engineer with the greatest of success. The piano sparkles, but retains its full tone in the extreme high register; the orchestra is full-bodied and taken with just the right amount of space around it. Orchestral detail is magnificently transparent, too, although shorn of unnecessary spotlighting.

. . .The first piece we hear, Le retour de Londres, a "Grand Rondeau brill ant" of 1833 is, indeed, a light work full of virtuoso devices (all of which seem to be at Hinterhuber's beck and call). . .It is interesting to note that one of Hinterhuber's teachers was Lazar Berman, and some of that Russian giant's dexterity and huge tonal diversity has rubbed off on his pupil.

The Mozartian charms of the F-Major Variations (1820) sound perhaps a little too shallow after the trials and tribulations of the Oberon work, specially given its duration of 17:07, but are nonetheless delightful in their own right. The piece ends calmly, almost (given the glitter that precedes it) anticlimactically. Yet it cannot be denied that it is good to hear the piece.

I have only come across Hinterhuber on one other occasion, a Naxos disc of Ries Piano Concertos (8.557638, positively reviewed in Fanfare 29:6 by Michael Carter, and by myself elsewhere). I do hope Naxos keeps on tapping into his easy virtuosity, so perfectly suited to this repertoire. Uwe Grodd accompanies attentively.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, February 2008

Gramophone Editor's Choice
Last month's One to Watch comes good in this lovely disc of Hummel rarities. Christopher Hinterhuber is terrific in these works, and seems to be fast becoming a Naxos favourite. That label also works its old and much-appreciated trick of unearthing a really excellent but little-hyped band in the Gävle Symphony Orchestra.

Ear-tickling Hummel unearthed

The four concertante pieces on this imaginative disc were written between 1820 and 1833, primarily as vehicles to show off Hummel's virtuosity at the keyboard. He wrote The Return to London in celebration of his return to the capital after 40 years - and the visit was a triumph. The jaunty main rondo theme prompts a sequence of free variations punctuated by improvisatory passages.

The Variations and Finale offers a similar free formula, again with a breezy main theme, while Oberons Zauberhorn ("Oberon's Magic Horn") uses material from Weber's opera which was being performed at the time. Surprisingly little of Weber's material is involved but it makes a colorful piece with a strikingly dramatic opening and with a storm sequence full of tremolos and horn fanfares. The Variations in F date from 1820, a simpler set, well varied, with a cadenza near the end and an emphatic close.

Christoper Hinterhuber, who has already recorded piano music by CPE Bach for Naxos, is a first-rate soloist, accompanied by the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest in Sweden, under its German music director Uwe Grodd. An excellent disc of long-buried rarities, well-worth hearing.

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Recorded a matter of days after their most recent Ries disc, Christopher Hinterhuber and Uwe Grodd give us what, I hope, is the first in a series of Hummel albums. There are no concertos here, but this collection of four concert pieces for piano and orchestra dating from 1820 to 1833 makes for an attractive programme. Hummel’s virtuosic music calls for finesse rather than barnstorming, and these cultivated artists know just how to play it.

The disc opens with the last of the works to be composed, the Grand Rondeau brilliant – given the title Le retour de Londres in the published score, but referred to as Le retour à Lourdes in a letter to Moscheles. What’s in a name? This is no tone poem depicting place; rather, it is a first class vehicle for expressive pianism. The piece opens with a long-breathed introduction of imposing grandeur before Hummel blows the clouds away with a fresh breezy rondeau, full of smiles, sparkle and spice. Hinterhuber trots stylishly and at a well judged pace through the virtuosic writing and the orchestra under Grodd is sympathetically supportive.

The longest piece in the programme, Oberons Zauberhorn, is something of a tone poem in the form of a free fantasia. It was inspired by Weber’s opera Oberon but quotes very little of the opera’s musical material: Hummel uses little more than Weber’s horn-call motif and in any case he more-or-less composes his own. The piece is musically and dramatically satisfying, veering from an atmosphere of mystery to an ebullient march; from a fierce summer storm to a joyful close.

The Variations and Finale in B flat major begin with a grand, almost tragic larghetto before Hummel states his theme, a simple song from the Berlin stage. What he does with the tune, though, is anything but simple. Hummel reminds us in these variations of his extraordinary improvisatory facility. They are far from simple elaborations, but are ceaselessly charming. The earlier Variations in F major which bring the disc to a close are more formally structured, with the theme stated at the outset and the orchestra linking the variations. I have to confess it is my least favourite of the pieces on this disc. It seems stiff after the greater fluidity of Hummel's conception in the three pieces that precede it. At 17 minutes, it also seems overlong. That said, there is certainly nothing wrong with Hinterhuber's playing or the stylish accompaniment.

Allan Badley again contributes a thoughtful set of liner notes and the recorded sound at this venue is as good as ever.

Naxos already has an old ex-Marco Polo recording of Hummel’s two most famous piano concertos, his Op.85 and Op.89, on its books. Perhaps now is the time for them to re-record these pieces along with the rest of Hummel’s half dozen or so piano concertos and other concertante works. It would be next to impossible for anyone to surpass Stephen Hough in Op.85 and Op.89 (CHAN 8507), but on the evidence of this disc Hinterhuber and Grodd have something to say about Hummel and it is something worth hearing.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2008

Every one of the four pieces for piano and orchestra on this new Naxos release show Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) at his most inventive. Composed between 1820 and 1833, these one-movement occasional pieces make it easy to believe reports by his contemporaries that Hummel was not only an incredible virtuoso, but also an extraordinary improviser. The spontaneity and freshness of these works may even remind some listeners of what would soon come from the great American pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869).

Le retour de Londres -- Grand Rondeau brillant (1833) was one of Hummel's last pieces and there's a certain amount of abandon about it that's often typical of composers' final works. It opens reservedly, but it's not long before a big six-four chord announces a perky rondo theme which recurs periodically throughout the piece. The episodes between its appearances are some of the most progressive music Hummel ever came up with, and make you wonder if Chopin might have heard this. The work concludes with a thrilling coda embellished by impressive displays of digital dexterity from the soloist.

Two sets of variations separated by a period of ten years are included. The Variations in F major (1820) begins with a theme that sounds like it must have been inspired by Papageno's little song from Mozart's The Magic Flute. It's subjected to a number of delightful transformations which are less formal than is usually the case with a work of this type. In fact Hummel never strays too far from the basic melody and relies on rhythmic devices and orchestral colorations to achieve variety.

With a slow, moody introduction, the Variations and Finale in B flat major (1830) is a more involved work, but once underway there's the same lightness of touch that was present in the two preceding pieces. The theme was apparently taken from a singspiel that was popular in Berlin at that time. Although it's a catchy little number, you'll probably find this is a case where Hummel's inventive variations are far more interesting than the original tune. Be that as it may, this work must rank as one of the composer's best in this form. And again, one can only wonder at one point [track-2, beginning at 07:37] whether Chopin might have known it. Towards the end there's a lovely introspective variation followed by an animated, highly embellished reprise. This puts the frosting on this tasty torte and brings the piece to a radiant close.

While Hummel's fantasy for piano and orchestra Oberons Zauberhorn (also known as L'Enchantment d'Oberon, 1829) was undoubtedly inspired by Weber's Oberon (1929), it's very much an independent creation except for an opening reference to the three-note horn motif that begins the opera. It's in five connected parts that include a spirited march and wonderfully spooky storm episode (there's also a storm in the stage work). The latter is made all the more dramatic by some lightning-fast runs and thunderous chords played by the soloist. The fantasy concludes with one of Hummel's most distinguished themes, which is related to the opening "Oberon" motif and introduced by the horn. Thematically speaking it brings this engaging showpiece full circle, and to an exciting conclusion.

Pianist Christopher Hinterhuber works more of his keyboard magic for Naxos here (see the newsletters of 16 January 2006 and 10 October 2007) with spirited, yet highly articulate performances of all four works. The support provided this outstanding artist by the Gavle Symphony Orchestra under Uwe Grodd is ideal.

The recorded sound is certainly acceptable, but there is some digital graininess in piano passages. It would be very interesting to hear what these pieces would have sounded like had something like Ray Kimber's IsoMike or Erik Sikkema's ULSI recording methodology been used., December 2007

Two of the major post-Beethoven musical figures were both born while Mozart was still alive; yet both were touted for a time as towering composers and worthy Beethoven successors. Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) and Louis (or Ludwig) Spohr (1784-1859) knew each other’s music; Spohr certainly thought well of Hummel’s. Hummel was a friend of Beethoven and was Haydn’s successor as Kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy in Eisenstadt. He was also a piano virtuoso of very considerable skill, with much of his writing for piano designed to demonstrate his own abilities as a performer. Christopher Hinterhuber plays four “showcase” works on this new Naxos CD – and the pieces confirm that Hummel, although scarcely the great composer he was once thought to be, never deserved the obscurity into which he later fell, and is worthy of the somewhat tentative revival of his music that has taken place in recent years.

Le retour de Londres—Grand Rondeau brilliant is the latest work here, dating to 1833, and is quite impressive. A sweeping, emotional introduction gives way to a rather trivial rondo theme that is varied in a wide variety of ways, from grand and moving to decidedly perky. The Variations and Finale in B flat major of 1830 also begins with a slow introduction, followed by a symmetrical and rather gentle theme in ¾ time that Hummel pulls apart and elaborates in more ways than the basic theme would seem to support. Oberons Zauberhorn (1831) is a fascinating work and a strange one. Purely on its own, it is an impressive dramatic fantasia built around a horn call and including, among other episodes, an unusually dark and dramatic section about two-thirds of the way through. But this work was never intended to be heard without context: it is an interpretative tribute to Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Oberon, which is built around a horn theme (but not Hummel’s horn theme) and which features similar episodes (but not using Hummel’s music). It is, in effect, Hummel’s interpretation of the mood of the opera, making references to Weber’s work without actually quoting much of its music. For those who know Oberon, Hummel’s piece will be all the more fascinating. Not so the final work in the CD, though: the Variations in F Major (1820) are workmanlike but not particularly distinguished. However, they do clearly show Hummel’s place in musical history, since the theme itself is distinctly Mozartean, featuring interesting ornamentation and considerable poise and balance.

Hinterhuber plays all this music with a great deal of panache, and Uwe Grodd and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra provide absolutely wonderful backup: detailed, enthusiastic and very well played.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2007

Those who still think of Mozart’s pupil, Johann Hummel, as a composer now wrapped in reference book cobwebs are going to have a mighty big surprise when they hear this stunning new release, the brilliant opening bars of Le retour de Londres grabbing your attention. Stylistically he stands as a bridge between Mozart and Liszt, offering the performer ample scope for virtuosity while keeping within due bounds of classicism. Reports described him as an outstanding pianist who earned much of his early living as a concert pianist, eventually ploughing his money back into music publishing. The works on the present disc are extended musical lollypops, Hummel using those sparkling right hand runs and filigree decorations that Liszt would later exploit in his solo piano music. Towards the end of his life audiences in mainland Europe had become blase about his keyboard skills though he still commanded much enthusiasm each time he arrived in London. On his final visit there in 1833 took with him Le retour de Londres drawing an unusually vociferous response. Keyboard brilliance was much exploited in the Variations and Finale based on a perky little tune from a long forgotten opera. Though cast as a series of variations, the work gels together in such a way as to make one readily forget it is compilation of sections. That continuity is taken even further in Oberons Zauberhorn, a score in five phases and a showcases for pianistic brilliance, the storm that takes place in Weber’s opera, Oberon, rather out of order here, with the horn call returning to complete the work in a whirl of activity. Christopher Hinterhuber’s dexterity and sense of theatricality is perfect, and I doubt that anyone could make a more persuasive petition for the works to reappear in the repertoire, while the Swedish orchestra give both spirited and technically impeccable support. The sound and balance between piano and orchestra are exemplary. Highly recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group