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French Music for Horn and Piano
Louis François DAUPRAT (1786-1868)
Solo en Mi Bémol pour le Cor avec Piano Op. 11 No. 3 [7:03]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Six Mélodies Pour Le Cor À Pistons (1840) [26:12]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
pour Cor avec accompagnement de piano (1906) [6:27]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1913)
Romance en Fa pour Cor et Piano Op. 36 (1874) [3:31]; Romance en Mi pour Cor et Piano Op. 67 (1885) [8:57]
Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
Danse (1953) [2:09]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
Canon à l'Octave (1953) [1:08]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Elégie pour Cor et Piano 'In Memory of Dennis Brain' [9:12]
Eugène BOZZA (1905-1991)
En Forêt
, pour Cor Chromatique en Fa avec accompagnement de piano Op. 40 (1941) [6:56]

Barry Tuckwell (horn); Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
rec. no date or location supplied. DDD.
ETCETERA ETCO1135 (CD version ETC1135) [71:38]
Experience Classicsonline

The breadth of chamber music repertoire composed for horn and piano is never going to compete in terms of volume with that of its counterparts in the woodwind and string sections of the orchestra. That said, some of its best offerings come from French composers. This disc features some of the more famous chamber works for horn, by Dukas, Bozza, Poulenc and Saint-Saëns, by a horn player who has spent over thirty years as a successful international solo artist.

The album begins with Dauprat’s Solo in E minor, a work I have not heard before, but written by a famous and important historical figure in the horn’s development. Dauprat was an authority on hand-horn technique, but Tuckwell’s version is on the valve horn, which will not please purists. Despite the use of the wrong instrument, Tuckwell performs this charming piece with true flexibility and lightness of articulation, and injects character in the central rondo section. This is not the most historically accurate rendition of a work for Dauprat, but the final flourish is particularly impressive, and is a well-chosen contrast to the more modern repertoire offered on the disc.

Gounod’s Six Mélodies are shamefully under-represented in the catalogue, with the only other full by James Sommerville, Chamber Music for Horn (Marquis Classics MAR157, 2008). These neglected gems reflect Gounod’s ability to write vocal music, and are published in three pairs. It has become customary in a recital situation to treat these pieces in a similar fashion to collections of songs, so that the horn player can pick and choose from the six and perform them as a suite. Here it is represented in its entirety, although it must be noted that they are not in their original order, as the published fifth and sixth mélodies have switched places with the third and fourth.

Another deviation from the printed music presents itself in the second Mélodie, the opening Recit section begins in the solo horn, and in the original a hand-stopped echo answers it. The second phrase is placed in the right hand of the piano in this recording, and the echo effect is lost. After this hiccup, Tuckwell’s ringing tone takes over and the most charming of the six movements flows with grace. The first and fourth movements are rather beautiful, and great care is taken in the phrasing and shaping of the melodies.

Villanelle by Paul Dukas, originally written for horn and orchestra, is one of the most recorded works in the horn catalogue. Tuckwell delivers the opening hand-horn passage effortlessly, and the untempered notes of the harmonic series giving authentic colour and flavour. The main fanfare theme is always full of character, sometimes lyrical, sometimes heroic. The whole piece was a carefree, uncomplicated air to it – something that any horn student will tell you is no mean feat. The piano part to Villanelle is rather fiendish, and Blumenthal’s lightest of touch adds sparkle and energy to the performance. The closing section falls on the cautious side of Tres anime (very animated), although a convincing finish is still obtained. I would not recommend this as the best interpretation of Villanelle available. Hermann Baumann’s version with the original horn and orchestra (see review of The World of French Horn) is by far the best in the catalogue, and for a more much explosive ending I would choose Nigel Black and Vladimir Ashkenazy’s Corno Cantabile (Cryston, 2007).

Both the Romances by Saint-Saëns allow Tuckwell to reveal in his clear tone and lyrical phrasing. Sensitive rubato creates space and demonstrates Tuckwell’s musicality and good partnership with Blumenthal, especially in the Romance in F. The delicate touch and relaxed ascent at the end of Op. 67 is rather remarkable, and both the Romances flow naturally as if being improvised.

Balance problems present themselves in the shortest tracks on the disc, Danse by Joseph Canteloube and Jean Françaix’s cheeky Canon À L'Octave. This doesn’t detract too much from the overall playful character in the Danse, but right from the onset the piano takes the lead in the Françaix. Tuckwell does not match the volume of the piano and it feels as if the horn is playing catch up. In this case I think Blumenthal is a little too zealous in his interpretation, overemphasising the phrasing compared to the horn but Tuckwell redeems himself in the closing phrase by surprising the listener with his masterful pianissimo.

Poulenc’s Elegie for Horn and Piano was the composer’s immediate reaction to the death of Dennis Brain in a car crash. The music represents the car crash and the reflections afterwards. The opening tone row in the solo horn feels a little hurried; there could be more sense of space and contemplation. The fast semi quaver passages are much most compelling, conveying the anger and passion for the death of such an artist still in his prime. This recording is one of the faster versions available and overall it feels as if Tuckwell does not want to take the risk of taking the slow sections to the extremes, which unfortunately is what Poulenc intended.

Bozza’s En Forêt was written as a competition piece for players at the Paris Conservatoire. It tests all aspects of technique – range, agility, hand stopping, dynamics, lip trills – all of which Tuckwell performs with gusto. His lyrical tone in the slow plainchant section is particularly impressive, as is his ease of navigation through the trickiest corners of this piece. There are no problems of ensemble here. It is delivered with plenty of energy, and the balance of dynamics is well judged. This flashy work is the perfect end to the album.

I would recommend this disc for Tuckwell’s interpretations of the Saint-Saëns Romances, Gounod Six Mélodies and the Bozza and for the rare works by Dauprat, Canteloube and Françaix. For the listener wanting to purchase definitive recordings of Dukas’s Villanelle and Poulenc’s Elegy I would look elsewhere in the catalogue, where better alternatives are available.

Sabrina Pullen



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