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Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was regarded in his day as one of Europe's foremost composers and perhaps greatest pianist. His gifts of improvisation were said to match those of Beethoven, and he provides a unique bridge between Mozart and Chopin.
As a child he lived for two years with Mozart whilst learning the piano - the older composer predicted a brilliant future for him, organising his concert debut when Hummel was just nine years old. A year later, after a European tour, he was in London taking lessons from Clementi. At 15 he was studying composition, and on the advice of Haydn took lessons in dramatic composition from Salieri. At 26 he took the position formerly occupied by Haydn with Prince Esterhazy, where he remained until 1811 - during this time he fell out with Beethoven, an estrangement which was not resolved until the latter's dying days. He moved to Weimar in 1819 and struck up a close friendship with Goethe, at whose house he would regularly play. He was later pall-bearer at Beethoven's funeral and as requested by the late composer, performed improvisations on Beethoven's music at his memorial concert. Indeed it was Hummel's piano arrangements of Beethoven's symphonies which perhaps did most to get them known at the time. He met Schubert at the time of Beethoven's death and greatly impressed him with improvisations on his own works - Schubert was to dedicate his final three piano sonatas to Hummel, a dedication changed posthumously by Schubert's publisher.
As a composer Hummel completed 127 works, which range from "sets of flowery variations to operas... its outstanding qualities, which are decorative and effusively pretty, are also those which, being inseperable from the fashion of the moment, are the least durable," - according to the authors of The Record Guide in 1956.
Naturally, however, some works do stand out, and of the seven piano concertos composed by Hummel, the A minor, Op.85, presented here, is regarded as the finest, surely able to hold its own alongside those of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. Written around 1816, it a work requiring great pianisit virtuosity, and has rightly received some renewed attention, and here we're delighted to offer you a chance to hear what we believe to be the world première recording in the safe hands of Artur Balsam.
Artur Balsam (1906-1994), born in Warsaw, Poland, was considered one of the world’s most important and influential pianists. With more than 250 recordings of piano and chamber music works, Balsam worked with many of the world’s internationally renowned solo instrumentalists including violinists Joseph Fuchs and Oscar Shumsky, Nathan Milstein, and cellist Zara Nelsova. As soloist, he appeared with the Royal Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Philharmonia of London, Milan, and Warsaw, as well as the radio orchestras of Berlin, London, and Zurich.
Balsam students include Edmund Battersby, Murray Perahia, and Emanuel Ax. He was also instrumental in the re-emergence of the Kneisel Hall music center in Blue Hill, Maine, as one of the most important summer retreats for the study and performance of chamber music.
HUMMEL Piano Concerto No. 2 in A minor, Oo. 85
Recorded in Autumn 1951
Issued as Concert Hall CHS1241
Released in the UK in 1954 as Nixa LP CLP1311
Artur Balsam, piano
Winterthur Symphony Orchestra,
Conducted by Otto Ackerman