la contemplazione ibs classical

La contemplazione
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Piano Sonata No.6 in D major Op.106 (1824)
Bagatelle Op.107 No.3 La contemplazione – una fantasia piccola (c.1825)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Drei Klavierstücke D.946 (1828)
Eloy Orzaiz (fortepiano)
rec. 2022, Schuilkerk De Hoop, Diemen, The Netherlands
IBS Classical IBS182023 [63]

Eloy Orzaiz brings together two composers whose performing credentials were wildly different; Hummel, the lauded piano virtuoso who toured Europe and travelled as far afield as St. Petersburg and Schubert, more at home in the intimate setting of private salons. Nonetheless they forged a friendship and mutual respect; Schubert’s Trout Quintet was inspired by the piano quintet of the older master and Hummel was very nearly the dedicatee of Schubert’s final three sonatas, only missing out because their eventual publisher changed the dedication. For his part Hummel may have far surpassed the technical facility of the younger colleague but would be moved to tears by Schubert’s beauty of expression and spirit. Orzaiz strengthens the connection here by prefacing each of Schubert’s Klavierstücke with one of Hummel’s short preludes.

He begins with Hummel’s last sonata, the four movement Grand Sonata Brilliante op.106 written in Weimar where he served as Kapellmeister from 1819 until his death in 1837. The first movement opens with a semiquaver figure that could have come from Mozart or Haydn and, in combination with the short motif that appears in bar 17, it dominates the opening passages. A second more lyrical theme enters in the dominant key and to this style of expressive writing that would soon influence the young Chopin Hummel adds the kind of virtuoso passagework that would fill the pages of his études and concertos. A muscular scherzo all’antico characterised by dotted rhythms follows and it is much more interesting that the rather formulaic opening movement. Though it harks back to old dances it also heralds the kind of nostalgia that inspired later composers from Paderewski to Stravinsky to revisit old forms. The third movement larghetto a capriccio opens gently enough, its melody and lilting accompaniment echoing operatic cantilenas or, by extension Field and Chopin nocturnes. In common practice melodic decoration would be added as the piece progresses and Hummel certainly obliges, the latter pages turning dark with filigree passagework, so highly decorated that the melody itself is only really hinted at in the final 15 bars. The finale has all the demands of the first movement but its contrapuntal writing makes for a jollier work while possibly contributing to the idea of Hummel’s music as old fashioned once the full bodied romanticism of Chopin, Liszt and others blossomed across Europe.

Schubert’s three piano pieces D.946 are not as well recorded as his late sonatas but they remain popular and are much more familiar than anything by Hummel. I rather like Orzaiz’s idea of playing one of Hummel’s op.67 preludes to introduce each piece. The preludes are unlike the preludes of later composers in that they were actually written for preluding, the art of introducing a work with a short introduction rather than just starting, settling the audience into the new key. Many pianists would of course improvise their own but for the amateur or professional not confident or competent enough to provide their own composers such as Hummel, Tausig, Moscheles, Cramer, Henselt etc, etc wrote out preludes for such use. Daniel Grimwood has recently recorded the complete Henselt études each one prefaced with Henselt’s own préambles (Edition Peters Sounds EPS008) but the practice is unlikely to make a comeback; it was common enough that it can still be heard on early recordings such as those of Busoni, Hofmann and Backhaus. Each actually works well in context especially the first where the tumult of the E flat minor triplets is prefaced by bold and sombre chordal music.

As a sort of encore Orzaiz plays Hummel’s bagatelle la comtemplazione subtitled una fantasia piccola though bagatelle seems rather inadequate to describe the dramatic scope of this little fantasy. It bridges the gap between Hummel’s mentor Mozart and Schubert with its melodic charm and dramatic impact; it is like the slow movement of a sonata opening with a simple tune that could have come from the pen of Schubert. After a short time the music grows a little more bombastic and moves to a variation of the main tune in the left hand with increasingly decorative passagework for both hands. As with the slow movement of his sonata recorded here the decorative muse is not eager to leave once it has established a foothold and the rest of the work is infused with its tracery though the piece ends on a calm note.

The booklet is silent on Eloy Orzaiz but his playing is more than sufficient to demonstrate his passion for this music. He plays with plenty of rhythmic bite and vigour and in the slower moments he achieves a fine line and buoyancy in the accompaniment while clearly enjoying Hummel’s passion in the decorative, almost improvisatory sections. He plays a Viennese Graf instrument that dates from the mid-1820s, a couple of years before Schubert wrote his Klavierstücke and while I am not generally a fan of period instruments the tone is warm and full, admirably so under Orzaiz’s fingers.

Rob Challinor

Availability: IBS Classical