Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Soloists from the Budapest Festival Orchestra: Queen's Hall, Sunday 24 August

A delightful Sunday afternnon concert featuring music by Hummel (his Piano Quintet) and Bartok (Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano, and his early and little-known Piano Quintet). The Hummel is best known these days as the piece whose unusual instrumental line-up of piano/violin/viola/cello/double bass inspired Schubert to write the similarly-instrumented "Trout" Quintet. Except it seems it didn't: it had yet to be published when Schubert started on the "Trout". It seems Schubert's model was actually a different piece of Hummel, no longer much played: his quintet arrangement of his own Septet in D minor. The piece has a great deal of charm (piano quintets were still a rather new idea, which is why there were still variant instrumentations) and a great number of notes for the pianist to play. Hummel was from all accounts an even better pianist than Beethoven (though not a better improvisor) and didn't stint on pianistic difficulty. A fun piece that's always nice to hear on its rare live outings.

Likewise Contrasts, though it is played a little more often. Written for Benny Goodman and Jozsef Szigeti, it is full of Bartok's folkish melodies. It is also rather difficult, not so much for the pianist but certainly for the other two.

Least heard of all the works in the programme, and only published in 1970, Bartok's Piano Quintet immediately predates his Opus 1 and is the last work of his musical apprenticeship, so to speak. It's a longish piece, and you'd never guess it was by Bartok: I'd have guessed Dvorak, though his own Piano Quintet is a more mature work. It's not a piece I'd want to own on record as I do the others, but I'm glad to have heard it, never having suspected its existence before.

The performances were all of a very high standard. Rather to my surprise, of the thirteen jobs to be done (two quintets and a trio) the only duplication was that both the Bartok pieces had the same pianist, so there were twelve names on the programme in all.

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