Readers of this blog will certainly have noticed my predilection and appreciation for the Eloquence label. They consistently provide an invaluable service by rescuing classic recordings from obscurity and presenting them in glorious sound. The present disc is a case in point, as it is refreshing to have recordings of two rare Hummel chamber works back in circulation.
First up is the Septet. Delightful music, but, oh my, I do have some reservations about this group's playing of it. First, they are not always in tune with each other, or with the piano. Curiously, some sections suffer more than others, presumably as the result of multiple recording sessions. Second, there are some problems with the playing of some of the individual players in this group. This violist has some intonation issues (these are evident in the Quintet as well) as does the oboe, who also has a most sour tone and tends to honk like a duck being chased by a wolf (he was practicing for the Prokofiev?). However, the horn is excellent (but over-prominently mic'd) and the pianist is beyond reproach (more on this later).
Stylistically, this group plays with impressive virtuosity, although swift tempos take priority over charm. Their lilting manner in the second movement, Menuetto e scherzo, is almost over the top, making it sound rather hokey. And the breathlessly fast Scherzo doesn't help matters. The Finale Vivace comes off best, which is very enjoyable.
The playing in the Quintet is much better - they are more in tune and the sour, honking oboe is mercifully absent. But again here, virtuosity is a priority. As expertly as it is played, this reading does not have quite the singing gracefulness that the Schubert Ensemble of London brings in abundance to this music on a completely wonderful 2-disc Hyperion 'dyad' set.
Overall, while I have reservations about some of the players, the star of this show is unquestionably pianist Lamar Crowson. Outstanding pianism in every way. How those impossibly fast passages are accommodated so expertly at these racy tempos is an endless source of astonishment. The recorded quality is also outstanding (other than the unnaturally close-mic'd horn noted above). Eloquence always presents superbly remastered releases. Indeed, one would never guess these originate from the 1960s.
The Weber Clarinet Quintet which follows was an ill-advised choice. After the wonderful inspiration and creative genius of Hummel, it is an unpleasant aftertaste. Surely another Hummel recording could have been found? (The original Decca release of the Hummels had no coupling.) Weber's clarinet music is certainly not my cup of tea (those screeching high notes!) and clarinetist Gervase de Peyer's rather fruity tone and touch of vibrato don't do it any favors.
Quibbles aside, I enthusiastically recommend this disc for the rarity of available recordings of Hummel chamber music. It is always enjoyable and enriching and these performances bring much pleasure. I just wish a 3rd Hummel work would have been chosen instead of the unsuitable Weber.