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Concertos for Four Horns
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Konzertstück Op. 86 (1849) [17:12]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerto in F major (1746) [6:16]
Georg Philip 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
Sinfonia Varsovia/Dariusz Wišniewski
rec. Polish Radio Studios, Warsaw, Poland, 18-20 July 2003.
NAXOS 8.557747 [75:40]


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.

Oversimplifications 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 ...

Dominy Clements

see also Reviews by Glyn Pursglove and Colin Clarke


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