Hummel - Piano Concerto in A minor - Mendelssohn - Piano Concerto No. 2 - Artur Balsam, Piano
Hummel - Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 85 - Winterthur Symphony Orchestra / Otto Ackermann - Mendelssohn - Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in D minor, Op. 40 - Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bronislaw Gimpel
In his numerous recordings made during the 1950s, Artur Balsam is revealed as having not only been a pioneer with regard to the early Mozart piano concertos, but a champion of neglected 19th century works as well. Coupled with Clementi's Piano Sonata, Op. 40, No. 2, Balsam's 1950s LP of the large-scale and technically demanding Hummel Concerto in A minor is a case in point (while Horowitz was also a dedicated champion of the Clementi sonatas at about the same time, whether he would have risked taking up a "marginal" work such as the Hummel concerto remains an open question).
In his excellent notes for this LP, James Lyons writes:
"In artistic matters we tend to respect the judgement of posterity, and reasonably so. On the other hand, could such arbiters as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven have been wrong about Johann Nepomuk Hummel? Mozart took him into his own house and lavished lessons on him daily for two years. Haydn was also among his mentors; he esteemed him worthy enough to be his Esterhazy deputy for seven years. Even Beethoven, famous virtuoso that he was, had to acknowledge Hummel's primacy at the keyboard. None of these giants was given to tolerating mediocrity, let alone praising it. Plainly, Hummel had something. ...
The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 85, was, even in its own time, regarded as the finest of the seven essays in this form by Hummel. Abraham Veinus, one of our dependable modern authorities, speaks of it with typical understatement as a 'very respectable' piece. More generally, he attributes 'genius and unexciting (!) merit' to the entire septet. According to the best available records, the Opus 85 was last performed in the United States not quite a century ago, on the twenty-third of April, 1864, by the precursor of the New York Philharmonic Symphony, with Carl Bergmann conducting and Richard Hoffmann playing the awesome solo part. Why the work has fallen from the repertory is a question that fails of an adequate answer; the listener is invited to match wits with posterity and, perforce, with the likes of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven."
It should only be added that Balsam's performance on this LP - from an interpretative standpoint - shows that he went far beyond simply mastering the "awesome" technical problems of the Hummel concerto, becoming the "sympathetic virtuoso" Lyons mentions elsewhere in his notes.
Balsam's extremely fine performance of Mendelssohn's D minor concerto (with violinist / conductor Bronislaw Gimpel) finds him equally at home in a contrasting stream of 19th century musical culture (paired on the same LP with Mozart's fifth piano concerto, yet having a somewhat different sound quality). And indeed, commentators on Balsam's art often mention his versatility as a pianist. But, in addition to a wide-ranging versatility when it came to his instrument, Balsam possessed the perhaps more important gift for communication through art - in which the personality of the artist recedes into near invisibility and we find ourselves suddenly face-to-face with something which comes close to the work's essence. The performance here of Mendelssohn's D minor concerto might well be another case in point.
LP restorations of material issued c.early - mid-1950s (Concert Hall Society; Renaissance labels).