The last classicist
with JOHN HAYWARD-WARBURTON
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As the quartet begins (click
here to listen), the composer avoids the temptation to give a long melody
to each instrument in turn and, instead, achieves an equality among the
parts in which he delays the clarinet's entry, thereby increasing its importance.
While the construction of most of the work is conventional, with the slow
movement placed third, an unusual scherzo, called "La seccatura"
(the nuisance), turns out to be a musical joke because each instrument is
given a different time-signature, which changes as the piece goes on (click to listen). Despite
echoes of Mozart in the slow movement (its opening interval is the same
as that in the equivalent movement of the Clarinet Concerto), Hummel appears
unable to let the music find the repose that Mozart's greater genius brings.
For his part, clarinettist Fabrizio Meloni retains constant control, which
eludes two of the string players from time to time, leaving the ensemble
technically unbalanced. The viola player (Luca Ranieri) is excellent, but
it is a pity that he is the only performer whose biography is omitted in
the sleeve notes. I am sure that such a generally delightful work, first
published as recently as 1958, was approached with enthusiasm, but some
details of its execution fail to reflect this.
A separate session in a
different location with another engineer was used for the works for
solo instrument and orchestra, whose recordings have an tendency to emphasise
the front desks of violins and cellos. It is rather a front-row, "hole
in the middle", balance which does no favour to Hummel's orchestration
(learned at first hand from the masters) nor to Diego Dini-Ciacci, the well-humoured
oboeist and secure conductor of the Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia. In
the Introduction, Theme and Variations op. 104 for oboe and orchestra, Hummel
is at first mock-serious, almost Italian (click
to hear this), then full of spirit as he asks the soloist to perform
an acrobat's tumbles and dives which, on this record, should solicit warm
applause from the coldest audience.
Immediately preceding this work is the F major Bassoon concerto, which
apparently laid unpublished until edited as a dissertation project at the
University of Iowa in 1957. Here,
the composer makes as convincing a case as any for the liberation of the
bassoon, which is just as fitting for such agile music as the cello is for
a great Romantic concerto. While conventional in form and approach, there
is no shortage of appeal in the first movement's themes nor in Claudio Gonella's
playing (listen to some
of the recapitulation section here), and a pleasant lyricism pervades
the second movement (Romanza). A few of the bassoon's tricks (long notes
from alternate ends of the instrument's range) recur in the gentle Rondo
that ends the concerto (click
to listen), but who's counting? The music entertains any audience well,
but no more.
It seems uncharitable to express reservations about this disc, given
its relatively rare repertoire and low price, but neither the standard of
some of the playing nor the sound balance of the larger pieces could be
called state-of-the-art in Europe. However, a modern-day listener who might,
two hundred years ago, have gone to hear Hummel play as a teenager will
probably enjoy it today.
The comparison with Beethoven leads to a final point: what if Beethoven
had shared Mozart as a teacher for longer than he perhaps did in 1787, as
well as Salieri and Haydn?
Bassoon Concerto in F,
Theme and Variations op.102 for Oboe and Orchestra,
Clarinet Quartet in E flat.
Claudio Gonella, bassoon; Diego Dini-Ciacci, oboe;
Fabrizio Meloni, clarinet; Andrea Pecolo, violin;
Luca Ranieri, viola; Mario Finotti, cello;
Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia, cond. Diego Dini-Ciacci
Producer: Gian Andrea Lodovici
Total time: 71:05 DDD
THIS CD FROM CROTCHET
Copyright © John Hayward-Warburton,
May 29th 1999
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