Brilliant Records continues their traversal of Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s piano concertos. It’s a worthy project. Hummel was a major figure in the early 19th Century Vienna. He was friends of both Beethoven and Schubert. He was regarded as near-equal to the former, and more successful than the latter.

Hummel was a virtuous pianist (at age 8 he lived and studied with Mozart). His five published piano concertos push the boundaries of the fortepiano. This volume features one of his unpublished piano concertos and a double concerto for piano and violin.

The Piano Concerto in A major (S.4, WoO 24) is an early work. It bears a strong resemblance to Mozart’s later concertos. The overall sound of the concerto is light and transparent. The melodies are full, rounded phrases rather than motivic building blocks — sound to me more like Mozart than Beethoven.

The Concerto for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 17 dates from 1805. Beethoven premiered his fourth piano concerto the same year, and the two seem very similar in style. Both Hummel and Beethoven were pulling away from the restrained elegance of Mozart and Haydn. The orchestral textures are thicker, and the tutti section hit harder.

This series is all about period-instrument performances. And in this case, I think the results are mixed — but enlightening. For the piano concert, Alessandro Commellato plays a Joseph Boum 1825 fortepiano. Even though the concerto predates the instrument, it sounded overwhelmed.

Commellato performed with energy. His mastery of the technical challenges — rapid runs, wide leaps — was flawless. But to my ears it sounded like the instrument was holding him back. The action seemed sluggish, occasionally clacking in especially rapid passages.

Comello’s performance in the double concerto was also first-rate. Here the pianoforte didn’t sound as bad. Perhaps it received an overhaul between sessions?

Stefano Barneschi played an 1830 Giacinto Santagiuliana violin. Its sound an edge to it, but that edge complemented the timbre of the fortepiano. And the instruments seemed to balance each other — perhaps more so than their modern equivalents would have.

On the whole, I enjoyed this release. The quality of the music and the performances overcame my reaction to the sound of the fortepiano.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel: Piano Concertos Vol. 2
Piano Concerto in A major; Concerto for piano, violin, and orchestra, Op. 17
Alessandro Commellato, fortepiano; Stefano Barneschi, violin
La Galante; Milano Classica; Didier Talpain, conductor
Brilliant Classics 95894