Hummel/Bertini: Chamber Music

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Hummel/Bertini: Chamber Music Review

by James Manheim

The small German label MDG here once again offers a disc that will interest specialists while still offering a very pleasant hour of entertainment to any casual lover of chamber music or, for that matter, to anyone who wants something new for a cocktail party. These six "wind symphonies" by Johann Christian Bach sound from the name as though they're part of an unfamiliar genre. In fact they're three-movement divertimenti similar in their formal outlines to the divertimenti of the young Mozart, whose music was influenced heavily by that of the so-called "London Bach." Liner-note writer Gerhard Pätzig points to the "elegant blend of vibrancy, virtuosity, lyrical expression, brightness, and melodic beauty" in these pieces, and it is just that blend that Mozart accomplished so well. Bach's wind symphonies are written for paired clarinets, bassoons, and natural horns, with an unobtrusive double bass that is sometimes played pizzicato. They're in three (or four) movements, with clear but not highly variegated sonata forms in the fast outer movements and limpid melodies in the moderate-tempo central movements. The writing for clarinets and horns is top-notch, giving the players a real workout but never losing a sense of balance. In fact, this CD can be strongly recommended to wind players in search of new literature. The Consortium Classicum executes everything with exemplary smoothness.

Like most of the various serenades, divertimenti, and Feldparthien of the Classical era, these works were written for outdoor performance. MDG approximated that sonic ambience in this 1991 recording by working in the Fürstliche Reitbahn in Bad Arolsen, Germany, a large old hippodrome now used as a corporate meeting facility. The results are gentle, slightly muted, spacious, and clear -- just right for J.C. Bach. With the London Bach still too sparsely represented on recordings, this disc seems assured of continued success.