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Hyperion Records

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Felsentor (1818) by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841)
National Gallery, Berlin / AKG-Images, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67390
Recording details: January 2003
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2003
Total duration: 25 minutes 0 seconds

'I doubt whether anyone today could play these sonatas better than Stephen Hough, who spins an exquisitely limpid cantabile, has an instinctive understanding of the rubato crucial to this style, and keeps the textures marvellously lucid … If you want to explore these brilliant, intriguingly diverse sonatas, this fabulous disc is the one to go for' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Stephen Hough turns his attention to the three most compelling of Hummel’s five mature solo piano sonatas. The F sharp minor, Op 81, and D major, Op 106, from 1819 and 1824, are large-scale works, revelling in an early-Romantic virtuosity that was to attract both Chopin and Liszt. The four-movement Op 106 is a huge creation of dramatic rhetorical gestures, while the much earlier F minor sonata, Op 20 (1807), gives a taste of the youthful Hummel’s exuberantly Haydnesque style. Hough proves a dazzling advocate for all three works.' (The Sunday Times)

'I have no hesitation in according this CD the highest marks' (Fanfare, USA)

'…no composer could ask for a better champion. His playing is fierce, sharply etched and eloquent throughout, with an emphasis on the formal balances that set this music teetering on the edge betwen Mozartean symmetry and the fiery impulsiveness of the Romantics' (San Francisco Chronicle)

'No matter how difficult the music, Stephen Hough's effortless technique and eloquent, characterful musicality make everything sound easy' (ClassicsToday.com)

Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op 81
composer
1819

Allegro  [8'21]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Of all Hummel’s keyboard sonatas, the Sonata in F sharp minor, Op 81 (1819) is the most adventurous, the one that turns its back resolutely on the Classical era and hoists its colours to the new expressiveness of Romanticism. On this occasion, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung reviewer found the work ‘meaningful, noble, spirited, pathetic, skilful, logical, novel, and pianistically resourceful to an extent truly deserving the term “Grosse Sonate” and making it the finest, also the most difficult, among all sonatas to date’. The youthful Schumann struggled to master this ‘epic, Titanic work’, the one composition of Hummel’s that would survive, he later considered.

The first movement (Allegro) surges dramatically, pauses to reflect, rushes onwards with sparkling passagework, lingers introspectively before roaring on again – a stylistic mélange of writing that more closely resembles a fantasy than a formally structured sonata first movement (there is no exposition repeat, for example). Clementi was famous for his rapid passages in thirds (Mozart addressed his own inferiority in this respect by never writing such passages), a skill which he clearly passed on to his pupil, and Hummel’s episodes of con brio semiquaver runs in fourths and thirds must have challenged many others besides Schumann (Hummel’s B minor concerto written in the same year as this sonata, and the A minor concerto of 1821 are no less intimidating).

The slow movement (Largo con molt’espressione) opens not with a gentle sigh but an angry outburst (fortissimo), the first of a series of unexpected explosions that punctuate it. Hummel’s novel pianistic decoration during its course offers a fascinating anticipation of Chopin’s, even if its thematic material is less memorable. Jolting us abruptly from this meandering reverie comes the striking opening subject of the finale (Vivace), an impulsive folk-like dance. This, at last, is Hummel with the gloves off, the athletic writing on occasion using the entire compass of the keyboard in a single measure, making all kinds of cruel demands on the player, not least in stamina. Hummel provides two brief intervals of quiet relief (one a fugal passage in the major tonic) in an otherwise relentless drive to the thrilling conclusion.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2003

Other albums featuring this work
'The Stephen Hough Piano Collection' (HOUGH1)
The Stephen Hough Piano Collection
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