Hélène de Montgeroult - Etudes in Gramophone

"Nimbly executed, sensitively phrased and beautifully recorded… Clare Hammond has left all pianophiles in her debt." — Jeremy Nicholas

Where will Clare Hammond pop up next? If she is not championing new works and recording their world premieres, she is appearing as the young Miss Shepherd in the film of Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van or giving us the complete music for keyboard by Josef Myslivecek (1737-81). Now she turns her attention to the extraordinary Hélène-Antoinette-Marie de Nervo de Montgeroult (1764-1836), a student of Clementi, an aristocratic survivor of the French Revolution, pianist, composer and author of a famous piano method: her Cours complet pour l'enseignement du forte-piano was published in 1816 in three volumes.

Montgeroult has not been entirely ignored on disc. Her complete sonatas have been recorded with great panache by Nichols Horvath, for instance (Grand Piano, 1/22), and there is an excellent mixed programme of her works by Edna Stern (Orchid), which I welcomed in the April 2017 issue. Montgeroult, in my opinion, deserves every bit of the attention she is now so belatedly receiving. As Hammond says in her own (elegantly written and diligently researched) booklet, of the 29 études she has selected from the Cours complet, 'not only are they of similar quality to the music by composers such as Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann, they are stylistically so advanced as to call into question our perceptions of where the "classical" and "romantic" periods fall'.

Take the very first étude on the disc (No 37 in G). Its cross-hand device was used half a century later by Fridolin Braungardt in his Waldesrauschen (aka Idyll), a piece of romantic salon music found in many a Victorian piano stool. No 36 in F which, like all 114 études, comes with a note on its intent (pour apprendre à lier le chant') sounds like a Beethoven bagatelle, No 35 in C minor like a sprightly CPE Bach toccata, No 34 in F like a Chopin Prelude, No 82 in C minor could be by Alkan, and so on. Elsewhere in Clare Hammond's judiciously ordered selection, you might detect prescient hints of Schumann, Brahms or even Debussy. The shortest si 0'53", the longest 4'37". These are no dull finger drills like those of Cramer (a pupil of Montgeroult) but studies which, like Chopin's Opp 10 and 25 published ni the 1830s, combine technical exercises with musicof depth and poetry.

Nimbly executed, sensitively phrased and beautifull recorded (Wvastone Concert Hall), Clare Hammond has left all pianophiles in her debt. 'How can music of this quality and vision', she asks, be forgotten so comprehensively for so long?' Indeed. An early contender for next year's Gramophone Awards.