John Khouri

J.N. Hummel: 24 Grande Etudes, Op. 125; Etc.

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Johann Nepomuk Hummel was an early touring piano virtuoso, as well as a teacher and composer. Listeners can hear some of the ostentation associated with virtuosic showmanship in the 24 Grand Etudes, Op. 125, the main work on this disc from John Khouri. This is the last of Khouri's discs exploring the later music of Hummel, all performed on period instruments. The etudes, as well as the Trois Amusements and the rondos here, are not Hummel's best compositions. They have attractive character and melodies, and are appealing from a performance standpoint in that they are challenging but not completely beyond the talent of a skilled amateur pianist. However, there often seems to be more flash than substance, especially in the latter works, and they are at a disadvantage when compared to similar works by Mendelssohn and even to Hummel's more adroitly composed sonatas. Khouri accepts the music for what it is and tries to bring out the musical rather than the technical nature of the etudes. He finds drama, melancholy, mystery, and playfulness in them. There are a few, such as No. 5 and No. 14, that sound sloppy, but that really is the result of music demanding physical agility and an instrument with imperfect tuning, exacerbated by use of the pedal. Khouri is not afraid to play his instruments at times with the same strength that he would a modern piano, but he is still very much aware of the more elegant nature of the instrument and music. Even with Khouri's respect for the music and his instruments, there is still an air of charming quaintness in these works that doesn't necessarily reflect the real value of Hummel as a composer.

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