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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: 17 minutes 30 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 minor, Op 20
composer
1807

Allegro moderato  [8'03]
Adagio maestoso  [5'28]
Presto  [3'59]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Hummel composed about twenty-five sonatas in all – four duets, twelve with other instruments, and nine for solo piano. Of these latter, five can be considered mature works. The two earliest solo sonatas are Hummel’s Op 2 No 3, written at the age of fourteen and published in 1793 (a work that shows the youngster had fully absorbed his Mozart and Clementi), and the Sonata in E flat Op 13, his first fully mature work of its type, dedicated to Haydn and published in 1803.

The Sonata in F minor, Op 20 (1807) marks as much of an advance in appropriating an individual voice as Op 13 does from Op 2. It was written in Eisenstadt where Hummel had taken up the post of Kapellmeister to Prince Esterhazy in succession to Haydn. Though the opening bars of the first movement (Allegro moderato) might be mistaken for a passage from a Mozart piano concerto, there is little use of the Alberti bass – that mainstay of the classical sonata – and, right from the outset, a freer, more improvisatory tone than either Mozart or Haydn conceded; the patterns are irregular, there are abrupt tempo changes (a bar of Adagio before a new Allegro agitato early in the exposition) and a rather self-conscious polyphony. Though this is the least difficult sonata to play from a technical point of view, Hummel introduces many passages of great brilliance, already looking forward to the formidable challenges of the concertos. A contemporary review in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung commented unfavourably on the length of the slow middle movement (Adagio maestoso) and found little in the sonata that might justify the effort to master its difficulties (the reviewer even suggested that the score might be an arrangement rather than original keyboard music). There is certainly plenty to keep nimble fingers occupied in the Presto finale with its whirling triplets and Scarlattian left-hand crossed-hand leaps. Ancor più presto, urges Hummel, for the sonata’s closing pages in the major tonic.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2003

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