PIERNÉ: Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 12. Poëme symphonique in D minor, Op. 37. Fantaisie-Ballet in B flat, Op. 6. Scherzo-Caprice in D, Op. 25.
Stephen Coombs, pianist; BBC Scottish Symphony Orch/Ronald Corp, cond.
HYPERION CDA 67348 (F) (DDD) TT: 52:14

HUMMEL: Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 81. Piano Sonata in D, Op. 106. Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 20.
Stephen Hough, pianist
HYPERION CDA 67390 (F) (DDD) TT: 69:20

Hyperion's distinguishedRomantic Piano Concerto series continues with this CD containing the complete works for piano and orchestra of Gabriel Pierné, who had a lustrous career during his time (1863-1937) not only as a composer, but as a conductor—from 1910 to 1934 he was principal conductor of Concerts Colonne. His works include nine operas, nine ballets, several oratorios, varied symphonic, chamber music and works for solo instruments. He studied organ with Franck and composition with Massenet, winning the Prix de Rome for his cantata Edith. Although highly respected during his time, upon his death his music became almost totally neglected, although the last Schwaan/Opus listed a number of recordings of varied chamber works as well as two other versions of the C minor piano concerto, a quite old recording with Marylene Dosse, and a more recent one by Dag Achatz. Stephen Coombs, soloist on the new CD (which contains all of the composer's works for piano and orchestra), also wrote the CD notes and makes many highly flattering comments about the music's merits. Let's face the fact: the music isn't played much because it is so outright boring. Not much of interest takes place in any of the works on this CD except possibly the Scherzo-Caprice which does show some imagination and sense of humor. Coombs and the fine British orchestra under Ronald Corp's knowing direction do what can be done for Pierné's music, and Hyperion's sound is up to their usual high standards.

Stephen Hough's 1986 Chandos recording of Johann Nepomuk Hummel's piano concertos Op. 85 and Op. 89—which were the first modern recordings of these delightful works—became a classic. It seems appropriate that Hough now return, although rather belatedly, to music of the composer, namely three of Hummel's nine sonatas for solo piano, although none are major works. The earliest, Op. 20, dates from 1807 written in Eisenstadt where the composer had taken up the post of Kapellmeister to Prince Esterhazy in succession to Haydn. One review of the time objected to the lengthy slow movement, Adagio maestoso, even though it only 5:28 of the sonata's total time of 17:33. The Presto finale has plenty of high-spirited virtuoso opportunities for the pianist. The Sonata, Op. 81, composed in 1819, is more Romantic in nature and very difficult; the youthful Robert Schumann "struggled to master this epic," and said is was the one composition of Hummel that would survive. Sonata in D, Op. 106 was written in 1824 in Wiemar where the composer had become Kapellmeister to the Grand Duke of Saxony, where he remained until his death in 1837. It is Hummel's longest sonata and the only one to have four movements, ending with the expected Allegro vivace. All three sonatas are surely pleasant enough although hardly of the stature of his piano concertos. I haven't heard the other recordings of these sonatas (Constance Keene/Ian Hobson) but can't imagine that they could be superior to Hough's brilliance. As usual, Hyperion's sound is superb.

R.E.B. (December 2003)