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Eric EWAZEN (b.1954)
Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra (2002) [21:44]
James A. BECKEL (b.1948)
The Glass Bead Game: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra (1997) [21:33]
Simon A. SARGON (b.1938)
Questings: Concerto for Horn and Chamber Orchestra (1985-1991) [16:51]
Gregory Hustis (horn)
Dallas Philharmonia/Paul Clifford Phillips
Recorded: Dallas, no date given.
CRYSTAL RECORDS CD773 [60:25]

 

 

Gregory Hustis has held the position of principal horn with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra since 1976. He proves to be a highly competent soloist in this programme of contemporary American works for horn and orchestra.

Eric Ewazen studied with Milton Babbitt and Gunther Schuller, amongst others, and has taught at the Juilliard School since 1980. Though he has written for many instrumental combinations, his works for brass instruments, for woodwinds and for wind ensembles have been most widely played and recorded. That he has a particular feeling for the veiled poetry of the horn is clear in this concerto, written for Gregory Hustis. The central slow movement is particularly attractive, Hustis playing with a gentle, resonantly mellow sound. Overall the Concerto is pleasant listening, though none of its melodies are especially memorable.

James Beckel’s concerto had its first performance in November 1997 with Kent Leslie as soloist, accompanied by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. As its title suggests, it is a kind of musical meditation on Herman Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game. The booklet notes contain some fairly detailed notes by the composer explaining the music’s relationship to the novel. I am far from sure that most listeners will either need, or want, to feel too bound by the relationship, since the music is certainly interesting enough to be listened to on its own terms. The first movement (‘The Call and Awakening’) is characterised by some handsome horn calls - which are handsomely played – and some attractive interplay between horn, flute and piccolo. The slow movement pitches some sustained notes for the horn against luminous strings. In the final movement an array of percussion is strikingly employed, and there is some aggressive writing for the orchestra, before a beautifully reflective conclusion - picking up the mood and situation at the end of the novel, and making perfect sense musically.

Simon Sargon’s Questings had its first performance in 1991, with Hustis as soloist. The composer explains that the title refers “to the quest throughout the composition to regain the mood of peace and serenity with which it opens” – a more helpful observation than one often finds in composers’ notes on their own music! The ‘quest’ involves passages of genuine ‘struggle’ between soloist and orchestra, and between stillness and agitation - not always simply represented by soloist and orchestra in a one-for-one relationship. The central ‘Pastorale’ is tender, but tinged with regret and sadness, its eloquent melodies finally settling into calmness – a calmness shattered by the eruption of the full orchestra at the beginning of the final movement (‘Burlesque/ Finale’). As the movement progresses tentative suggestions of tranquillity are repeatedly overcome by a surrounding harshness; yet at the very end, as the opening material of the first movement returns and grows, the quest reaches a resolution, however temporary one suspects it may be. Questings conducts a sophisticated musical argument and soloist, orchestra and conductor all do justice to its articulation.

On early hearings I found these pieces rather dry and correct, but somewhat lightweight. They have grown on me, however, and my initial respect has grown into a warm pleasure in their considerable sophistication and substance. The Glass Bead Game and Questings, in particular, would merit a place alongside more famous pieces for horn and orchestra.

Glyn Pursglove

 

 

 

 


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