Concert review

David Pyatt horn Martin Jones piano South Bank Centre 28 October 1999

A lunchtime recital by the former BBC Young Musician of the Year (1988), now principal horn of the LSO, brought a large audience, including young horn players, to the Purcell Room. I was attracted too by the chance to hear again, and see live, pianist Martin Jones a stalwart of the Nimbus recording studio (q.v. my recent reviews for MotW of his Szymanowski and Spanish boxed sets). They are used to playing together as a duo and have solved the intrinsic balance problems.

Making informal contact with the audience, David Pyatt drew easy laughter with some questionable sideswipes. He ridiculed the natural valveless hand horn, for which Beethoven composed his sonata, by demonstrating the 'funny noises' that come out for notes outside the normal harmonic series. He also demonstrated hand stopping, commenting that without it he "might as well be playing a trombone, which'd be awful".

The Beethoven horn sonata was beautifully balanced, with Martin Jones crisp and fluent at the Steinway. David Pyatt's phrasing was a little bland and reticent. Arnold Cooke's Rondo and the American hornist-composer Verne Reynolds' Partita (in four movements, not seven as the programme sheet confusingly suggested) were both welcome. Jean Michel Damase (b. 1928), best known for his wind quintet Variations, has composed frequently for the horn - during the '90s a sonata and a concerto. His Berceuse and Pavane with variations are good examples of idiomatic French music for the instrument and were played elegantly. Morceau de Concert Op. 94 by the prolific Saint-Saens ended the proceedings with a virtuoso flourish, but musically it is rather empty, recalling the jibe that he was 'the greatest composer who wasn't a genius' (I can't recall to whom that is attributed?). New Grove laments the lack of personal details of style and quotes detractors who thought he composed 'la mauvaise musique bien écrite'.

The horn is a beautiful, gleaming polished object to behold, its intricate valve work at close quarters making for an intriguing, almost surreal, picture. By contrast! Whilst the French horn offers limited visual interest in performance, its player appearing to be doing almost nothing, Martin Jones at the piano is an object lesson for pianists, but must disappoint those for whom emotive body language is an integral element of musical communication. He sits absolutely still and his hand and finger movements are economical, betraying no tension or strain even in such a pianistic show piece as the Granados Allegro de Concierto, interposed to give David Pyatt a well earned rest during a strenuous and extremely rewarding recital.

David Pyatt, with Martin Jones, has recorded an excellent and interesting French horn recital programme, including the Beethoven and Koechlin sonatas, on Erato 3984-21632-2. There are recordings of the Beethoven horn sonata on natural horn, with forte-piano, by Baumann (Teldec 3984-21708-2) and Halstead (Decca 455 994-2OH), illuminating to compare with performances on modern instruments.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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