Joseph Haydn: Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Strings in F major, Hob. XVIII:6 Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Orchestra in G major, Op. 17
Our modern view of the concerto genre is dominated by the great nineteenth- and twentieth-century warhorses that showcase a single soloist (occasional exceptions such as the Brahms double concerto for violin and cello merely prove the rule). But from the invention of the concerto in the late seventeenth century until some way into the 1800s, composers frequently wrote for different combinations of multiple soloists, and after flagging in the Romantic period, the multi-soloist concerto enjoyed something of a resurgence in the mid-twentieth century — even if the logistical realities of concert programming continue to constrain it. The two works on this disc remind us of the fruitful possibilities afforded by the genre.
As one of the founding fathers of Western classical music, Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) should in most respects need no introduction. Yet the sheer quantity and diversity of his creative output can be difficult to compass. While the same may be said of J.S. Bach, diversity is even more marked in Haydn’s case, as across a long life he participated fully in a period of remarkable stylistic upheaval, as the stately decorum and architectural grandeur of the late Baroque were disrupted by new sensibilities inspired more by the swift drama of comic opera, among other things. Haydn did much to shape these new forces into enduring new forms, most notably in the symphony and the string quartet. While his concertos — many of which are now lost — have received less attention (with the exception of the famous trumpet concerto and two of the works for cello), they always demonstrate his characteristically imaginative use of the sonic resources at hand, and an inexhaustible gift for inventing engaging musical material and manipulating it in unexpected ways.
The Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Strings in F major, Hob. XVIII:6, dates from 1766, when the composer was in his mid-thirties. In 1761 he had been appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to the wealthy and intensely musical Esterházy family, in whose employ he would remain for the rest of his professional life; it was a prestigious position, which although demanding gave him many opportunities, including the support of a community of virtuoso musicians. The original title of this concerto specifies harpsichord for the keyboard part; Haydn scholars believe that either organ or harpsichord was in fact intended, and given the flexible attitude to such issues at the time, piano also seems a reasonable option for modern performers. As is typical for eighteenth-century concertos, the work is in three movements, fast-slow-fast, the expansive first two movements capped by a much shorter finale that punches above its weight with sheer energy and rhythmic zest. The two soloists function as an evenly matched duo throughout, and carry much of the gracefully ornamented second movement with minimal assistance from the orchestra.
It is regrettable but probably inevitable that the gigantic shadows of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert should have so long obscured (in posterity if not during their lifetimes) the achievements of many other excellent composers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Fortunately, the recording and publishing boom of the last few decades has deservedly revived a good deal of this music, but there are still plenty of riches to discover. In the case of Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), celebrated virtuoso pianist, composer, teacher, and conductor, neglect has not only deprived us of much fine music, but has also significantly distorted our picture of subsequent stylistic developments. A number of later nineteenth-century composers were influenced almost as much by Hummel as by the giants of the classical period: he had a major impact on the piano writing of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Chopin, among others. A protégé of Mozart and later Haydn, pianistic rival and then friend of Beethoven, Hummel went on to become the most influential piano pedagogue of the first half of the nineteenth century. He was renowned for the ‘pearly’ evenness of his tone and clarity of execution, even in the most virtuosic passages, and his music emphasizes melody amidst inventive keyboard figuration.
Hummel wrote almost a dozen concertos across his career, most of them for the piano. The Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Orchestra in G major, Op. 17, composed c. 1805, was his third concerto but the first to which he assigned an opus number. The first movement is almost unfailingly sunny; emotion deepens in the dark harmonic shifts towards the end of the development section, however, and fireworks explode in the cadenza – unexpectedly, given the decorous progress of the movement up to this point. The second movement, a theme and variations, offers some of the most beautiful writing in the work, not least for the orchestra; the appearance of the theme in the horns in the fifth variation is particularly delightful, as are the delicate, sparkling figures in the orchestral violins toward the end of the movement. Hummel reserves his most dramatic music for the finale, which, after the bright major-key opening, plunges into minor-key territory and stormy rhetoric for much of its central section, before the decisive return of the major in the brilliant final pages.
Copyright Alain Frogley
Singles & Doubles – Haydn and Mendelssohn Concertos
Mendelssohn Concertos was released on November 1, 2019 by Brilliant Classics.
The violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv performs two rarely-heard gems by Felix Mendelssohn: the Concerto in D minor for Violin and Strings (1822), and the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (1823). Joining Solomiya for the double concerto is the award-winning pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, and both works feature the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, Theodore Kuchar conducting. (Brilliant Classics, rel. November 1, 2019)
Ukraine – Journey to Freedom A Century of Classical Music for Violin and Piano
Romanticism, Expressionism, the New Folklorism and Postmodernism in Ukranian violin and piano music performed by Solomiya Ivakhiv in her debut recording on Labor Records, distributed by NAXOS of America.
Poems and Rhapsodies
To be released late 2020
“Poems and Rhapsodies” includes American Rhapsody by Grammy-award winning composer Kenneth Fuchs, The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Poème symphonique by Ernest Chausson, La Muse et le poète by Camille Saint-Saëns, Carpathian Rhapsody by Myroslav Skoryk, and Poeme by Anatol Kos-Anatolsky. Dr. Ivakhiv is joined by award winning cellist Sophie Shao and the National Symphony of Ukraine, conducted by Volodymyr Sirenko. (Centaur, rel. late 2020)