Let's face it: this recording is unnatural. In their natural environment, these three works would have been performed in a theater by a pit orchestra as accompaniments to dancing -- and sitting through all three of them would have been simply inconceivable. Of course, without this recording, sitting through all three works -- or, indeed, hearing them at all -- would have been impossible because apparently only one of them was ever actually played. So, unnatural or not, fans of the music of Johann Nepomuk Hummel will at last be able to sit through -- or, conceivably, dance to -- the suites drawn from his ballets Sappho von Mitilene and Das Zauberschloss, plus his 12 Waltzes and Coda thanks to this 2007 Chandos recording of Howard Shelley directing the London Mozart Players.
The results are entirely adorable, if unfortunately tedious. As Beethoven's favorite pupil, Hummel had a strong compositional technique, a muscular sense of rhythm, and a talent for striking orchestral colors, and taken one or two movements at a time, these ballet suites are quiet charming. Even in these crisp, bright, and ebullient performances by Shelley and the London Mozart Players, however, the music cannot stand long on its own without dancers to support it. Hummel's scores have less character than Beethoven's, less style than Haydn, and less class than Mozart, and though there are plenty of lovely melodies, robust rhythms, and attractive harmonies, there isn't much to stick in the ear. While fans of the Viennese High Classical Style in general and of Hummel in particular will want to hear this disc, it remains to be seen if they'll want to hear it all in one sitting. Recorded at St Silas the Martyr Church in London by producer Brian Couzens, Chandos' digital sound is big, rich, clean, and nicely detailed.