Susan Alexander-Max / Micaela Comberti / Jane Rogers / Simon Standage

Hummel: Cello Sonata, Op. 104; Piano Quartet; Piano Trios, Opp. 22 & 35

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This collection of a few of Hummel's chamber music pieces, although very well performed by fortepianist Susan Alexander-Max and friends on period instruments, demonstrates why it isn't better known or more frequently recorded (although at the time of this Naxos release, Salvatore Lagrassa and Voces Intimae had also just released Hummel's complete piano trios). These pieces are by no means uninspired in melody or mood. There is lyricism, often in the cello and frequently juxtaposed with a playful or pizzicato violin part. Moments of tension are brief and always relieved by much sunniness. The quartet and the Trio, Op. 35, are played with lots of spirit by Alexander-Max, violinist Micaela Comberti, violist Jane Rogers, and cellist Pal Banda. Even at their most animated, they are more Classically refined compared to the Trio, Op. 22. For that one, Simon Standage succeeded Comberti, who died from cancer less than a year after these recordings were made. Standage seems to add an extra dose of enthusiasm that Alexander-Max and Banda join in with. It doesn't bother him that in this work, as in all the others here, the bulk of the work goes to the piano. Which is why Hummel's piano chamber music isn't as popular as contemporary works by Beethoven or Schubert. Even in the Grand Sonate for cello and piano, the rondo of which occasionally has gestures evocative of Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata (written two years earlier), Hummel gives the piano lots of flourishes and flashiness. He recognized the value of the different textures of the stringed instruments with the piano, but never seemed to take full advantage of that. Alexander-Max has an appreciation for Hummel's writing that comes through clearly in her confident and skillful playing, and, although she easily could, she is careful not to grab the spotlight all for herself. The engineering of this recording also helps balance things out by not artificially boosting the fortepiano's sound above that of the strings. As pleasing as this performance is, and as pleasing as this music is to listen to, there is still the impression that Hummel was more a composer of piano music than a composer of chamber music.

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