Hélène de Montgeroult - Etudes in The Times

"falls under Hammond's fingers with a thoughtful beauty" — Geoff Brown

Two possible surprises lurk in my album of the week. One is that the pianist Clare Hammond, noted for her muscular power, can also touch the keys as if stroking a Siamese cat. The bigger surprise may come from the music: 29 études by Hélène de Montgeroult, a noblewoman who supposedly avoided jail during the French Revolution by moving her judges to tears after improvising variations on La Marseillaise. Professorship at the newly formed Paris Conservatoire followed.

Listening to the subtle simplicity of this music (first rediscovered in the 1990s), I almost shed a tear myself. Conceived as technical exercises in playing with crossed hands and other niceties, these pieces reveal an imagination and vitality that easily lift them onto a higher plane.

For music published in 1816 and chiefly written some time before, it’s also adventurous, tied to classical forms yet with a romantic spirit recalling later figures like Mendelssohn and Schumann. Above all, this is music of very high quality; and it falls under Hammond’s fingers with a thoughtful beauty that should make many new friends both for herself and for the composer she so excellently serves.