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The Art of the Vienna Horn
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Horn Sonata in F, Op. 17 (1800) [14’17].
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Auf dem Strom, D943 (1828) [9’57].
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)

Adagio and Allegro in A flat, Op. 70 (1849) [8’48].
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97)

Trio in E flat for Piano, Violin and Horn, Op. 40 (1865) [27’47].
Wolfgang Tomboeck (Vienna horn); Genia Kühlmeier (soprano); Johannes Tomboeck (violin); Madoka Inui (piano).
Rec. ORF Funkhaus, Vienna, 10-14 November, 10 December 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557471 [60’48]

 

Wolfgang Tomboeck’s extensive notes to this release provide not only an overview of the evolution of the horn in general but an explanation of the precocious nature of the F horn or Vienna horn, with its close harmonics bringing the player into dangerous territory. The nearer the harmonics on any particular fingering, the more chance of the player ‘missing’ – i.e. splitting the note.

The Vienna horn (still in use in said city) remains a noble beast, its tone mellower than the more open B flat/F double. In the wrong hands this tone-quality can be woolly or even cumbersome, seeming to inhibit mobility. Not in the hands, lips, more accurately, of Wolfgang Tomboeck, however, a member of the Wiener Philharmoniker since 1978 and first horn since 1980. Tomboeck’s tone is simply lovely. He combines all the necessary agility with this, plus no mean musicality.

The recital, travelling from Classical through Romantic in stages through to Brahms, begins with Beethoven’s Horn Sonata. Known, I would imagine almost exclusively, to horn players, it is a thoroughly attractive work. Its opening, an unaccompanied, fanfare-like figure based on an F major triad (or C major for a player playing on horn in F) proves just how difficult the most elementary constituents of music can be in exposed circumstances. Actually here it also contains in embryo the seeds of Tomboeck’s playing. Eminently musical, though without losing its annunciatory function, immediately we know this is a player of musicality and focus. Every note is bang in the middle. The players take the exposition repeat, correctly. Pianist Madoka Inui copes well with the tricky piano part, although Naxos’s recording makes the piano sound rather tinny, not doing justice, I am sure, to Ms Inui’s tone.

The tiny slip of a slow movement has both players tiptoeing on egg-shells before the joy that is the concluding Rondo. Suave and witty, there is a nice spring in the step.

Auf dem Strom is one of Schubert’s most inspired Lieder. Less often heard than some of the finest Lieder, it is a work of great beauty. Written for horn in E it has a text by Rellstab. This is helpfully reproduced in the booklet, unhelpfully only in the midst of the German text and even more unhelpfully without translation. Perhaps print out this page: http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=13382. The text is an archetype of parting, longing and death. As Tomboeck says in his notes, ‘A piece about dying and beauty, a very Austrian idea’. Indeed. This performance is marked by a freshness that comes from the pure, pristine voice of soprano Genia Kühmeier. The intertwining of voice and horn lines is miraculous, a seeming free-flow of Schubertian spur-of-the-moment invention. If you don’t already know this Lied, here is as good a place as any to start.

Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro poses real perils for the player. The long line of the Adagio requires real legato and velvet tone; here no problem. However it is the top C (1’34, reached by octave slur) that instils the real fear. Obviously not in Tomboeck. There is a little ‘air’ around his sound that is most appealing, and both players achieve real repose. There is fine cantabile playing from Inui and superbly warm ‘pedal’ notes from Tomboeck. This contrasts with the gritty, confident (nay, swaggering) beginning of the Allegro. The ‘Eusebius’ moments are savoured. Tomboeck, in addition, seems to be able to project just the right amount of strain around his high (played) B flats.

Brahms’ Trio, Op. 40 is a magnificent work. Aubrey Brain (father of Dennis) remains a clear historic recommendation (Pearl GEMMCD0007), yet for a modern version this one ranks with the very best. Brahms’ warm, autumnal voice resonates well with the Vienna horn; the timbre is totally appropriate. Johannes Tomboeck, son of Wolfgang and a violinist with the Vienna State Opera, matches Wolfgang in terms of both warmth and conviction. There is throughout the first movement a sense of a smouldering passion underneath the surface, a passion that should surface in the Scherzo. Here the scherzo is a little under-powered to fully realise this. Better is the Adagio mesto with Inui at her best here. This really does manage to hypnotise the listener. If the finale could be more exciting towards the very end, its hunting origins are nevertheless well preserved.

A triumph; a real disc to be savoured. And most emphatically not limited in its appeal to horn players!

Colin Clarke

see also review by Peter Lawson

 



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