It is by no means uncommon for anyone with even a modest interest in Mozart to own a dozen or more recordings of these Mozart Symphonies. Yet even only a hundred years ago such a person would have been more likely to rely on occasional public concerts or on arrangements of the works for piano solo or piano to get to know them, especially if they lived outside a major city.
Whilst the names of Mozart and Haydn were known to musical amateurs (in the literal sense) throughout Europe, many would only have heard their music in a variety of arrangements. For instance J.P. Salomon arranged Haydn’s London Symphonies for flute, string quartet and piano to make the most of the works he had commissioned. This made the works available for use in domestic or provincial situations where a full orchestra was not possible. Several of these arrangements have been recorded, giving a good opportunity to compare Salomon’s imaginative re-scoring with the original. The present disc does the same with three of Hummel’s arrangements of Mozart’s symphonies.
It would be easy for an unimaginative arranger for the chosen combination of flute, violin, cello and piano simply to base their versions on what Mozart gave to those instruments in the original versions, distributing what would otherwise be omitted amongst them and the piano. That is not what Hummel does. He rethinks the music for the new combination, whilst carefully ensuring that the pianist has the lion’s share of the music. It would indeed be possible to play the piano part and get a very good general idea of the works, but it is only when the other instruments are added that an effect reasonably close to the originals is obtained. The music played by those instruments does at times approximate to what they would have played in the originals but surprisingly frequently Hummel changes the whole instrumentation. The result is often to change the emphasis of the music and to clarify what may be obscure in even the best performances of the originals. There are some obvious losses. The impact of No. 38 is softened and without clarinets the character of No. 39 is made much less individual.
In no sense are these arrangements substitutes for the originals but they do form fascinating commentaries on them. I note that all are to be published in new editions by Artaria - although they are not yet listed on their website - edited by Uwe Grodd, the flautist here. I hope therefore to encounter them in live performances in due course.
The performances here are enthusiastic and fluent, making the most of Hummel’s rethinking of the music, in particular taking account of the relatively fast metronome marks and sometimes unexpected dynamics he added. I suspect that more may be learnt about these symphonies from listening to this disc that from acquiring yet another recording of the original versions.