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Carl Bauman
American Record Guide, November 2011

Madoka Inui…plays very well. Good notes and recording.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, August 2011

Hummel was a child prodigy, took lessons from Mozart for two years, was Haydn’s successor at Eisenstadt and both Liszt and Schumann tried to become pupils. As an adult his technical prowess at the piano was phenomenal and it is his sheer virtuosity which can get in the way of performances of his music.

Naxos are steadily accumulating discs of Hummel’s varied output and this disc by Japanese pianist Madoka Inui showcases Hummel’s piano fantasies based on operatic themes. Most of these are cast in variation form. Hummel seems to have been less concerned to evoke the operas concerned, and more interested in choosing a theme likely to be useful as the basis for spinning variations.

The variaions on the aria from Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail was written in Eisenstadt in 1810—nearly thirty years after the opera’s premiere. Hummel revered Mozart and his Figaro Fantasi has already appeared on a Naxos disc. There are 12 variations which Hummel presents in a series of varied contrasts, throwing in virtuoso moments as well as humour.

The variations on the theme from Gluck’s Armide were written in 1815, whilst Hummel was in Vienna. The writing is more considered, more classical with fewer of Hummel’s crowd-pleasing moments.

The lively Quintuor des Nègres is the only survival from Hummel’s ballet based on the novel Paul et Virginie. Written in 1809/10, the ballet was premiered in Vienna. Its musical effects are typical characteristic dances, not quite evoking the subject matter, but charming all the same.

Cherubini’s Les Deux Journées was a popular opera in its day, its ‘rescue opera’ format being influential on Beethoven. These were Hummel’s second set of variations on a theme from the opera and seems to be a late work. It shows Hummel to be pleasing, if formulaic.

His Grand Fantasia has little to do with Weber’s Oberon except for the horn-call itself. Here Hummel has abandoned the formulaic and gives us a truly grand, romantic fantasy. In fact it was originally written for piano and orchestra. It is a late work, premiered in Weimar whilst Weber’s opera was on at the court theatre. The piano adaptation was made by Hummel and the result is rather engaging and shows Hummel bridging the gap towards the music of the younger generation.

Nicolo Isouard was a Maltese composer. His version of the Cinderella story reached Vienna in 1812, when Hummel wrote his variations. Here we return to the more formulaic, but pleasing style of the earlier pieces.

Finally there is a pot-pourri from Hummel’s opera Die Eselshaut which was a fairy play, a genre popular at the time, with elaborate stage machinery. Hummel had left Eisenstadt and was trying to make his way as a free-lance composer and pianist. He published three arrangements of music from the score and made good money from them. They were a way of extending the life of the music.

Madoka Inui has the facility for Hummel’s music and brings great charm to the keyboard. There are times though when I wished for a little more flexibility and rubato; the figuration is a tad metronomic. But this is a charming recital, though Hummel’s style means that it is probably best to dip in rather than listening all the way through.

James Manheim, July 2011

This fine Naxos release fills a gap between the pure virtuoso tradition of operatic paraphrases and potpourris on one hand, and the more ambitious treatments of preexisting material by Franz Liszt on the other. Although Naxos doesn’t claim them as world recording premieres, these pieces by Johann Nepomuk Hummel have surely seen precious few performances since they fell out of fashion in the middle of the 19th century. Hummel was a contemporary and sometimes a rival of Beethoven, and several of these pieces contain something of the way Beethoven had of taking comic material seriously. Consider the opening set of Variations on “Vivat Bacchus” from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Op. 34/3, where Mozart’s comic treatment of the Turkish potentate exposed for the first time to alcohol gives birth to the very Beethovenian variation 9 (track 4). The Variations on a Theme from Gluck’s Armide, Op. 57, are similarly substantial, with a chromatic slow movement giving way to a contrapuntal finale. The Grand Fantasia on Oberons Zauberhorn (Oberon’s Magic Horn), Op. 116, was Hummel’s entry in a growing market of pieces based on Weber’s operas; Liszt, who was 18 when it appeared and already experimenting, may well have heard it and been influenced by it. The closest Hummel comes to the pure Romantic potboiler is the Potpourri No. 1 from the Opera Die Eselshaut (The Donkey Skin), Op. 58, but even this is a colorful, attractive set of pictorial pieces. Pianist Madoka Inui delivers fine performances, favoring crisp articulation over volume in music that was still written for fortepiano-like instruments; she handles the considerable technical challenges confidently. Add in good sound from a Viennese studio, and you have a release that effectively recovers a lost corner of the early 19th century.

David Hurwitz, June 2011

The music on this disc falls easily on the ear, but as you might well imagine it’s a touch light on substance. These are the sorts of opera and ballet arrangements that the great 19th century virtuoso pianists such as Liszt and Thalberg made famous, but of course Hummel’s technique is, comparatively, somewhat underdeveloped, and seems more so as played (and recorded) on a Bösendorfer grand piano, with its characteristically rich bass and relatively shallow treble. That said, if mere pleasantry is enough, then there’s plenty to enjoy here.

Madoka Inui certainly projects the music’s innocent fun with a polished technique and the necessary rhythmic point. The brief Quintuor des nègres from the ballet Paul et Virginie (whatever that was) even anticipates the famous ballet in the triumphal scene of Verdi’s Aida. The Grand Fantasia from Oberons Zauberhorn, very loosely based on Weber, is the major work, striking a deeper note than the rest of the program. The disc is worth a listen for this piece alone. Collectors of early romantic piano repertoire will surely wish to explore this collection, despite the caveats previously mentioned.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2011

Taught by Mozart for two years free of charge and became so highly regarded as to succeed Haydn as the influential director of music of the Esterhazy ensemble. Johann Hummel was not only regarded as a leading piano virtuoso, with sensational tours around Europe, but also became a conductor, composer and a businessman of high repute. Indeed at the time he was considered a serious rival to Beethoven, though we now view that with a degree of disbelief. This disc shows him working in the highly commercial field of opera paraphrases based on well-known arias of the time. Nowadays we think of such works as coming from Liszt and his contemporaries where scores bristle with outgoing showmanship, but hear little of their precursors, of which Hummel must have been highly regarded. He did take into account the delicate ears of the young ladies who would have such entertainment played in their houses, but there are moments, such as the Grand Fantasia on Weber’s Oberon where there is a dramatic element and passages of real bravura. By contrast the Variations on a theme from Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail is full of elaborate filigree ornamentation, and much the same applies to the Variations on the March from the opera, Cinderella, by the little-known early 19th century Maltese composer, Nicolo Isouard. Finally to Hummel’s own opera, Die Eselshaut (Donkey Skin), the work, with its horrid story, now thankfully lost. Never one to waste ideas, Hummel recirculated material in three piano Potpourri, this being the first. The Japanese-born, Madoka Inui, is the very nimble soloist who draws every last drop of technical brilliance the scores offer. I doubt they could be better served. Recorded earlier this year in conjunction with Austrian radio, the sound quality is exceptionally realistic.

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