HUMMEL. SCHUBERT String Quintets
Period instruments in Schubert and Hummel chamber recordings are still relatively thin on the ground. And this pairing of works sporting the same line-up of violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano makes perfect sense; in fact it’s surprising that the dramatic and inventive Hummel Quintet isn’t better known.
So, on paper at least, there’s plenty going for this new reading. Yet reservations occur almost immediately. The first problem is the unflattering acoustic (it was recorded at Finchcocks Music Museum). The second is that though the fortepiano itself has plenty of character, Susan Alexander-Max’s playing of it can at times sound a little effortful, particularly in the effervescent writing in the Allegro vivace and Scherzo of the Schubert. You’re made a bit too aware of the sheer technical difficulties of this music, especially when compared to Vincent Coq in the Trio Wanderer’s reading or Alfred Brendel (both of course on modern instruments). There is also an issue with tuning, which becomes particularly pronounced at moments such as the first variation of the Trout or towards the close of the work’s finale, which is taken at a slightly galumphing gait. Sour tuning also afflicts the outset of the Hummel, though at least the fraught emotionalism of the first movement is well captured. But in the Chopinesque finale of the same piece effortfulness is once again to the fore: the Trio Wanderer are much more compelling here. So, alas, simply not competitive, despite the appealing coupling.