"The World of the French Horn" holds out
the promise of a wide-ranging spectrum of the repertoire and performers,
each with his own particular approach, of this noble instrument. As
far as the latter are concerned, the disc turns out to be so very nearly
"The World of Barry Tuckwell" that it might have made more
sense to trade in the two items that arenít played by him for a further
pair that are. And yet those two items do help us to focus our ideas.
Given that the weight of the anthology should be borne
by one player, you could hardly have a better one, of course. Joint
inheritor, with Alan Civil, of the mantle of the still-lamented Dennis
Brain, this Australian artist has been so faithful to Decca for most
of his long career that it is hardly to be wondered at that they have
taken little trouble to seek out and record other horn-players.
The Mozart concerto immediately gives us the measure
of his cool, yet not bland, style of playing. However, it is the Beethoven
which is the stuff of legends for here Tuckwell is responding to the
vital musicianship and enquiring mind of another of the great musicians
of our times. The sheer range of sound he gets from the instrument is
astonishing and he and Ashkenazy go a long way to persuading us that
this is a Beethoven work to rank with the finest (which received wisdom
says it is not). But this also enables us to point a finger at what
is missing from the Mozart. In later years Tuckwell has also gone into
conducting, but has not really proved able to fire an orchestra as one
hoped. Neat and lively as ECOís playing is, maybe it would have been
better to go back to his 1960s version with Peter Maag, for he evidently
thrives on partnerships; he does so again in the Knechtl concerto with
Iona Brown, a brief work that has him soaring to stratospheric heights
that would daunt many a clarinet, and in his splendid performance of
the first Strauss concerto, with Ashkenazy almost as vital on the podium
as at the keyboard.
In the Kreutzer piece Joan Sutherland does not quite
convince us that she is a lieder-singer manqué, but it is always
a pleasure to hear her. The nature of the German language means that
even she is compelled to let us have some consonants! The work itself
is an agreeable, slightly Schubertian affair; Bonynge does not allow
its full romantic nature to emerge as a result of adopting a rather
brittle, unpedalled brilliance in its arpeggio-work.
So now to the "others". Hermann Baumann adopts,
as is the custom in many European countries, a certain amount of vibrato.
Now vibrato in wind instruments, and brass instruments in particular,
tends to be one of those things, like foreigners and military bands,
that every right-thinking British music-lover learns to despise with
his motherís milk. And yet, if you stop getting hot under the collar
and listen with an open mind, can you deny that Baumannís touch of vibrato
lends a human, vocal quality to the lyrical passages by the side of
which Tuckwell can seem merely smooth? Is his sound not more sheerly
expressive than Tuckwellís?
Cazalet adds a further dimension, for he makes us realise
that both Tuckwell and Baumann are true masters of the longer musical
line. Cazalet is as agile as they (as far as the Poulenc "Elégie"
lets us judge) but there is a note-by-note feeling to the more cantabile
passages. It is still good playing, mind you, but reference to Tuckwell
or Baumann (or to Cazaletís pianist, the excellent Pascal Rogé)
points to what is missing.
A well-informed note adds to the pleasure and instruction
to be obtained from this excellently recorded compilation. For me the
highlights were the Beethoven and the Dukas; even so Iíd personally
have swapped this, the Knechtl, the Kreutzer and the Poulenc (if necessary)
for the Pears/Tuckwell/Britten recording of the Britten Serenade, or
even the older version of the same piece by Pears and Dennis Brain (on
a rare non-EMI recording) under Sir Eugene Goossens.