Giorgio Koukl | 08 APR 2020
It is curious to note the geographical region of the two composers, Haydn and Hummel, who not only share the stylistic vicinity, the national provenance being both sons of the great Austro-Hungarian empire, but both worked for the Esterhazy family in the castle of Eisenach. Haydn stayed there nearly thirty years, Hummel managed to be fired for “neglecting his duties” after only seven years.
Thus a good starting point to fully understand their music is the image of their place of provenance, this “flat and grey land” dotted by a few lakes and isolated castles of local aristocracy, land which then, as it does now, produced a high quality of wine both composers reportedly appreciated.
But there the similarity ends and we can see the older of the two composers, Franz Josef Haydn, speaking of himself as “staying isolated, without real contact with other composers of my time, forced me to become original.” Haydn was able to make only few trips abroad, like London, but despite this was one of the most popular composers of the time in all of Europe. His interest in the concerto form was quite limited, certainly nothing to compare to his huge output of symphonies or quartets, but the natural flow of musical ideas is equally astonishing in this Double Concerto as it is in his more famous works.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s name was chosen by his Slovak mother to honor the great Slavonic saint Johan (Jan) Nepomucenus. Born in Bratislava, now capital of the Slovak Republic, but then a sleepy province “village” near Vienna, he soon began to show exceptional musical talent and his father exploited this trying to emulate the childhood career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
At the age of only eight years Hummel took piano lessons with Mozart and a few years after toured England with great success, attracting interest of well-known composer and pianist Muzio Clementi.
After his return to Vienna and while still studying piano with Antonio Salieri, Hummel developed his famous technical skills allowing him to play passages on piano with dexterity never heard before no matter how difficult the score was, rivaled in this only by his fellow student Ludwig van Beethoven. This pianistic capacity is well reflected in his Concerto for Violin and Piano, Op. 17, and here I admired the ease with which pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi deals with the endless cascades of sixteenth notes, remaining rhythmically perfectly steady but modelling the overall musical picture in a very convincing way.
It’s a pleasure to see a former student of Bruno Canino reacting in this musically free manner, he must have made a lot of his own personal growth and I am confident he has some very interesting developments in front of his career. Equally valid is the violin soloist Solomia Ivakhiv. What gave me the best impression is their fabulous rhythmic precision they have together. Especially in the Haydn concerto the soloists have chosen extremely slow tempi, nothing to do with the Anush Nikogosyan and Andreas Froelich rendering which is on the exact opposite side. This decision serves them well in the slow movements, but is less adequate in the quick ones. The Hummel concerto is for me far more “daring” and shows the real potential of this duo. Let’s hope for a future collaboration, maybe in some 20th century repertoire?
The conductor Theodore Kuchar, well known for his Naxos series with Kiev symphony orchestra, delivers with mathematical precision what is requested, quite easy in Haydn, where the orchestra is reduced to a simple underlying carpet, but far more challenging in Hummel. Here, unfortunately, the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra is a little behind its otherwise immaculate reputation. Maybe it’s the forcedly reduced rehearsing and recording time, maybe it’s the unfortunate sonic image delivered by the sound engineer, but this orchestra is surely able to do better. Passages like the slow movement of Hummel, a series of variations, but without any indication of speed change, have some abrupt tempo fluctuations, probably a sign of no time to correct this. I would have wished Haydn, Hummel and the two soloists the grace of a first class orchestra, they would have deserved it.
For the relative repertoire rarity and for the genuine musical craftsmanship of the soloists this CD is easily recommended. ■