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THE WORLD OF THE FRENCH HORN
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Horn Concerto no. 4 in E flat, K.495
Barry Tuckwell (horn), ECO (Henry Wood Hall, June, July 1983)

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Horn Sonata in F, Op. 17
Barry Tuckwell (horn), Vladimir Ashkenazy (pianoforte) (Kingsway Hall, December 1974)

KNECHTL

Horn Concerto in D
Barry Tuckwell (horn), Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Iona Brown (St. Barnabasí Church, September 1985)

Conradin KREUTZER (1780-1849)

Das Mühlrad
Joan Sutherland (soprano), Barry Tuckwell (horn), Richard Bonynge (pianoforte) (Henry Wood Hall, October 1987)

Paul DUKAS (1895-1965), arr. Vitali Bujanowski

Villanelle
Hermann Baumann (horn), Leipzig Gewandhaus O/Kurt Masur (Neues Gewandhaus, September 1985)

Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

Élégie
André Cazalet (horn), Pascal Rogé (pianoforte) (Salle Wagram, Paris, June 1989)

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Horn Concerto no. 1 in E flat, op. 11
Barry Tuckwell (horn), RPO/Vladimir Ashkenazy (Walthamstow Town Hall, February 1990)

DECCA 472 499-2 [72í40"]

"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.

Christopher Howell


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