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Concertos for Four Horns
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Konzertstück for four horns (1849) [17:12]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Concerto in F major (c.1746) [6:16]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)

Overture in F major (1725) [23:46]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No.31 in D major, ‘Horn Signal’ (1765) [28:07]
American Horn Quartet: Kerry Turner, Charles Putnam, David Johnson, Geoffrey Winter.
Sinfonia Varsovia/Dariusz Wišniewski
rec. Polish Radio Studios, Warsaw, 18-20 July 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557747 [75:40]

It may be called ‘Concertos for Four Horns’, but there isn’t actually a true concerto here! What there is, is plenty of good music and plenty of top-class horn playing. The minor complaint about the title given to the CD only matters because it has perhaps led – in recording balance, for example – to giving the horns excessive prominence in some of the pieces. But enough of such quibbles, in the face of an enjoyable, if not especially remarkable, CD.

Schumann himself is said to have described the Konzertstück as "something quite curious" and I am inclined to agree with him. I have never been sure that it quite works, that it quite coheres. But certainly there are good and striking passages – as in the interruption of its opening themes by the horn fanfares and in the happy bravura of its conclusion – both well handled in this performance. I have, though, heard more poetry discovered in the Romanze than here.

Handel’s Concerto in F major is a delightful piece. A slow introduction, which is close kin to the later introduction to the Royal Fireworks music. It has a lovely out-of-doors feel to it and a faster section in which the horns are heard at something like their best.

Telemann’s Overture in F major is a suite in nine movements, written in Hamburg for a state visit by the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. It is a series of programmatic pieces, focused on the waters of the Alster, one of the three rivers of the great port of Hamburg and also the name of a lake in the city - the suite was surely played outdoors, by the waters? Telemann represents, with playfulness and wit, the fauna of the place - as in a movement called ‘The Concert of the Frogs and Crows’ and ‘The Song of the Swan’, in which oboe and bassoon create an enjoyable melancholy; he gives us aural pictures of the local landmarks, as in ‘The Glockenspiel of Hamburg’, represented by harpsichord and pizzicato strings. A piece entitled ‘The Alster-Echo’ does exactly what you might expect, through some delightful imitative writing. In good neo-classical fashion the Alster is also musically peopled by the figures of mythology, with a ‘Resting Pan’ and a final departure of nymphs and shepherds. Though it is well and enjoyably played in this recording, one can’t help feeling that this is a piece which cries out for performance on period instruments.

Haydn’s ‘Horn Signal’ symphony is, despite its nickname, not exclusively dominated by the horns. Its first movement puts the horns centre-stage and at the close of the symphony they are again prominent. Both sequences call for horn playing of the highest order, and they get it here from the American Horn Quartet. But for much of its length the symphony foregrounds a number of other solo instruments – particularly the violin and the cello and contains some joyous writing for the whole orchestra. The recording balance here sometimes seems to project the horns unduly. Overall, this is a pleasant, but not exceptional performance of the symphony, a performance that sometimes feels as if it needs a bit more urgency.

An enjoyable CD, for my tastes most wholly successful in the pieces by Handel and Telemann. There are, though, better performances of all the music to be had elsewhere.

Glyn Pursglove

see also review by Colin Clarke

 



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