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Concertos for Four Horns
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra, Op. 86 (1849) [17'12].
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)

Concerto in F (c1746) [6'16].
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)

Overture in F (1725) [23'46].
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 31 in D, Hornsignal (1765) [28'07].
American Horn Quartet (Kerry Turner, Charles Putnam, David Johnson, Geoffrey Winter)
Sinfonia Varsovia/Dariusz Wisniewski.
rec. Polish Studios, Warsaw, Poland, 18-20 July 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557747 [75'40]

An interesting record, although perhaps of greatest interest to horn players despite the programmer's attempts at variety. The Schumann Konzertstück is absolutely notorious amongst the horn playing profession, the top two parts of the four representing the apex of virtuosity. More, Schumann opts to write above top C (the usually-quoted range ceiling), shooting up to high Es (sounding As) at climactic moments of the first and last movements. The work begins with two abrupt chords from the orchestra here performed with marvellous presence and aplomb. A pity the horns do not quite match it in swagger. The soloists' approach seems to treat the work with a light (almost Mozartian) touch, a refreshing alternative to the hell-for-leather treatment it most usually receives. The slow movement (marked 'Romanze') is traditionally taken fast, perhaps in an attempt to save the players' lips. Here, it flows nicely, exuding real peace; especially the orchestra around 2'10ff. It is the finale that provides the fireworks and these players are as nimble as can be. If this is not a white-hot reading, it is certainly impressive.

The first Handel item will, I am sure, be almost instantly recognisable to most listeners from its Music for the Royal Fireworks usage of around three years later. The American Horn Quartet adds its own ornamentation here, and it is clear they are having much fun. The Telemann Overture, part of his Hamburg output, comprises no less than nine movements, each with a descriptive title. Perhaps the most outrageous is 'The Concert of the Frogs and the Crows' ('Die Konzertierenden Frösche und Krähen'), with its characterful use of stopping. The nimble lower parts of 'Das Kanonierende Pallas' are noteworthy, as are the zippy strings of the finale.

Finally, and perhaps predictably, Haydn's 'Hornsignal' symphony, given a lively performance here; the opening horn octave-Ds spot-on. After a robust first movement, the solo work of the slow movement - affectionately performed from all sides - leads to a gallant Menuet and a naturally unfolding finale, in which various members of the orchestra get a chance to shine.

Colin Clarke




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