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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Johann Nepomuk Hummel - Mandolin Concerto; Trumpet Concerto (Howard Shelley)


Composer: Johann Nepomuk Hummel
  • (01) Freudenfest Overture, S148
  • (02-04) Mandolin Concerto in G major, S28
  • (05-07) Trumpet Concerto in E major, S49/W1
  • (08-12) Ballet Music for 'Das Zauberglöckchen', S206/W31

Alison Stephens, mandolin
Urban Agnas, trumpet
London Mozart Players
Howard Shelley, conductor

Date: 2001
Label: Chandos



No doubt some wag has suggested that there can be few things worse in music than a concerto for mandolin – unless it’s one for two (Vivaldi gave us both). Such an opinion holds little water with Hummel’s example, a thoroughly attractive piece, Mozartian in its gentle tripping and relaxed sense of direction, Haydnesque in its light textures. Hummel collectors with a version already will wonder why Chandos is claiming a first recording. Alison Stephens has discovered an alternative document, in Hummel’s own hand, that differs both from the standard text as edited by Vincenz Hladky, and the composer’s emendations, which Hladky ignored.

I’m not sure that such scholarship is worthy of the music itself – thoroughly enjoyable though it is – but for Hummelians and mandolinists, it will no doubt be of interest. Not having heard the ’original’ myself - the notes reveal that this ’new’ version is close to Hummel’s Piano Concertino in G, Op.73, which Shelley has recorded on CHAN 9558, one of four Hummel/Shelley CDs now on Chandos – I will admit to being in no rush to hear the standard edition. I wonder though if Alison Bury could have also recorded that? There’s room for it, and she’s a fine player; the mandolin itself with its Neapolitan connotations, Venetian gondolas and the like, makes a nice sound, which attracted Mahler and Schoenberg it should be remembered.

The Trumpet Concerto is a wonderful piece, quite individual in its tunes and orchestration; spacious and songful, the slow movement is effectively an operatic aria, and the outer movements are sprightly, urbane and deliciously unpredictable. Urban Agnas is a splendid player, absolutely secure, generous of phrase and dextrous; he resists speed for its own sake and is a very articulate player. I don’t care for Shelley’s ritardando just as the soloist enters – it spoils the surprise – and the hesitation launching the finale is a tad affected. A fine performance nonetheless with plenty of bustle and humour – and it’s a piece that’s always welcome.

Both soloists are very well recorded being integrated into the whole and proving that soloists do not require an aural spotlight to make an effect. The recording, nearly too spacious, is a fine mix of perspective and detail.

The ballet music is a curiosity. Written ’as a finale for a Weimar performance in 1837 of the opera La Clochette by Ferdinand Herold’, there are five movements, all of which are light, melodious and, not inappropriately, French-sounding. The orchestration is colourful, not least in Hummel’s use of percussion. The overture is also curious in that it quotes three national anthems – including what was then (1814) God Save the King (I didn’t stand!); again, it’s all very pleasant. Both are first recordings.

As for Johann Nepomuk Hummel himself (1778-1837), he was a pupil of Mozart and Haydn, succeeded the latter at the Court of Esterhazy, was a fine and much-travelled pianist, a music publisher and, it appears, a warm and generous man – attributes that shine through his music.

-- Colin AndersonClassical Source

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****


Johann Nepomuk Hummel (14 November 1778 – 17 October 1837) was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist, whose music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era. Hummel was taught and housed by Mozart for two years, and later studied with Albrechtsberger, Haydn and Salieri. His main oeuvre is for the piano, on which instrument he was one of the great virtuosi of his day. Later 19th century pianistic technique was influenced by Hummel, through his instruction of Carl Czerny who later taught Liszt. Hummel's influence can also be seen in the early works of Chopin and Schumann.


Alison Stephens (1 March 1970 – 10 October 2010) was an English classical mandolin player and film musician. She began playing the mandolin at the age of seven was the first graduate in the instrument from Trinity College of Music in London. She gave her first public performance of a concerto at the Barbican Hall in 1987 and subsequently gave recitals all over the world. She played for opera and ballet companies and was a performer on the scores of films. Stephens was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008, made a full recovery and, before the cancer returned, spent her last two years fundraising for cancer charities.


Urban Agnas (born 20 September 1961) is a Swedish trumpeter and teacher. Agnas studied at the Ingesund College of Music in Arvika, Sweden. He was principal trumpet and also appeared as a soloist with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also performed with orchestras such as Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Norrköping Symphony Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Agnas is a founding member of the world famous Stockholm Chamber Brass which consists of Scandinavia's leading brass musicians.


Howard Shelley (born 9 March 1950) is a British pianist and conductor. He was educated at Highgate School and the Royal College of Music. As pianist he has performed, broadcast and recorded around the world with leading orchestras and conductors. He made many recordings for Chandos, Hyperion and EMI, including Rachmaninov's complete piano music and concertos. As a conductor, he has held positions of Associate and Principal Guest Conductor with the London Mozart Players in a close relationship of over twenty years. He has appeared regularly on television and on the soundtrack of several films.


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