Hyperion Records

Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op 81

'Hummel: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67390)
Hummel: Piano Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67390 
'The Stephen Hough Piano Collection' (HOUGH1)
The Stephen Hough Piano Collection
Buy by post £4.50 HOUGH1  Super-budget price sampler  
Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Largo con molt' espressione
Movement 3: Vivace
Track 3 on CDA67390 [7'41]
Track 8 on HOUGH1 [7'41] Super-budget price sampler

Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op 81
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

Track-specific metadata
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Details for HOUGH1 track 8
Movement 3: Vivace
Recording date
17 January 2003
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Recording engineer
Hyperion usage
  1. Hummel: Piano Sonatas (CDA67390)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: October 2003
  2. The Stephen Hough Piano Collection (HOUGH1)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: May 2005
    Super-budget price sampler
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