I have a horn playing
mate, Graham of Leeds, who over the years has sent me various
recorded versions of Schumann’s Konzertstück. Now I shall
be able to return the favour, and I have the feeling he will
be impressed and delighted. The energy leaps out of this recording
from bar one, and the American Horn Quartet are clearly a tight-knit
band who revel in all of the technical subtleties which can
be wrung from what is after all little more than a folded up
piece of central heating tube.
aside, the horn quartet and the warm strings of the Sinfonia
Varsovia are a winning combination. The American Horn Quartet
is not above a little expressive vibrato, and their sound mixes
well with the orchestra; distinctive but never overly soloistic.
The nicest thing is that they sound as if they are having fun.
Just listen to the echoes and playful runs in the third Sehr
Lebhaft movement of the Schumann – it brought a smile to
my face, even though it’s dustbin night and wetter than the
shipping forecast outside.
Moving on to Handel’s
Concerto, we are first treated to a grand opening, similar
to that of the overture to the music for the ‘Royal Fireworks’.
After some magnificent trills in the slow opening, the swinging
second section is equally graced with an increasing variety
of ornamentation in the true Baroque tradition; adding more
with each repetition. Remaining in the Baroque, Telemann’s Overture
is in fact a nine movement suite, possibly written for open-air
festivities, whose various sections have descriptive titles
like Die konzertierende Frösche und Krähen (The Concert
of the Frogs and Crows) which has some remarkable chromatic
effects. There is also the outrageous mickey-take of Der
Alsterschäfer Dorfmusik: just the kind of recording some
people like to get out, saying ‘you just have to hear
this!’ Having heard it, you just have to go out and buy
it, as this is the kind of joyous nonsense we should all have
in our lives once in a while.
The CD finishes
with the eminently sensible but equally cheerful Haydn, whose
Horn Signal symphony was undoubtedly written for the
celebrated horn section at Esterházy in 1765, and is contemporary
with a pair of horn concertos and the Cassation for four
horns and strings. Again, everyone is on cracking form, but
what’s this? Try one minute into the second Adagio movement,
and tell me if that sustained solo violin entry isn’t a quarter-tone
flat – excruciating, and very sad. Haydn’s idiom gives the horn
quartet fewer opportunities to shine with overt technical brilliance,
but the whole performance is well balanced, and a good showcase
for some of the excellent wind and string players in the Sinfonia
Varsovia – Haydn even throws in quite an extended bass solo
in the Finale.
I’ve enjoyed this
disc immensely. During my time as a student I was driven out,
mad or ill by practising horn players, who can have an even
worse effect on the nerves than plagues of cleaning ladies.
Having banished cleaning ladies from my life, I think I can
now also safely say I am cured of my horn allergy, and can see
myself keeping this CD handy just so that I can whip it out
on unsuspecting visitors, saying ‘you simply must hear
this!’ And so the cycle goes on ...
see also Reviews
by Glyn Pursglove and Colin