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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 



 

Schweizer Hornquartette
Volume 1
Templeton STRONG (1856-1948)
Légende for Horn Quartet (1913) [8:35]
Erik SZÉKELY (b. 1927)
Aubade and Sequence Op. 7 (1954) 6:57]
Ernst WIDMER (1927-1990)
Panorama Op. 94 (1974) [11:00]
Daniel LIENHARD (b. 1955)
Partikel (1978/1980) [5:00]
Klaus CORNELL (b. 1932)
Remebrances (Was vom Tag übrigblieb (2004) [10:17]
Andreas PFLÜGER (b. 1941)
Resonanzen (1987/2002) [17:12]
Roland MOSER (b. 1943)
Ton in Ton (1990/1997) [5:34]
Daupratt-Hornquartett:
Peter Bromig, Daniel Lienhard, Olivier Darbellay, Jörg Dusemund
rec. Radiostudio Zurich, 19-21 Oct 2004
MUSIQUES-SUISSES MGB-CD 6226 [65:35]
 
Schweizer Hornquartette
Volume 2
Julien-François ZBINDEN (b. 1917)
Three Pieces for Four Horns Op. 20 (1953) [8:18]
Richard FLURY (1896-1967)
Quartett für vier Waldhörner (1954) [11:01]
Carlo Florindo SEMINI (1914-2004)
Divertimento preistorico per 4 Corni (1957/1958) [11:00]
Alphonse ROY (1906-2000)
Quatuor pour Cors chromatiques (1953) [15:37]
Jean-Luc DARBELLAY (b. 1946)
Azur pour quatuor de cors (2001) [13:18]
Hornquartett Zurich:
Karl Fässler, Hanna Holder, Paulo Muñoz-Toledo, Heiner Wanner
rec. Kirche Blumenstein, 11-13 Oct 2004

MUSIQUES-SUISSES MGB-CD 6227 [59:38]

 


Musiques-Suisses has been issuing a clutch of rather interesting recordings, of which a couple have been reviewed on this site. Of the most recent releases, we here have the two volumes of Swiss horn quartets, with works dating from pre-World War 1 to 2004. None of these composers were familiar to me, and the liner notes, which were greatly helpful, include various insights into the works.

The opening Légende of Templeton Strong is the earliest piece, the longest single movement on Disc 1, and is the most typical in sound that one would expect a horn quartet to have. The overall effect of the piece is Late Romantic, the tonality Wagnerian. The opening theme gives way to an energetic march second section, which progresses to a quiet, lyrical interlude before revisiting the theme that begins the piece. The composer indicates sections where the instrumentalists are to play with the bell up to “make use of the raw, dark, threatening sound of the horn” and, though the sonority of the piece upstages any overtones of threat, the horns here are certainly proclamatory. An enjoyable work.

Immediately following we have a very different sound, that of Erik Szekely, who taught at the Neuchatel Cantonal Grammar School, as well as at Neuenberg, has various other works for ensemble, including two works for horn and piano. The Aubade opens with faint held notes in the background as a recurring motif of a descending minor third is recited by various members of the ensemble, with both mutes and stops. The following Sequence is highly syncopated and dance-like, with quick changes to stopped notes and back. The influence on the music here is Hungarian rather than that of Germany or Austria. 

The Panorama of 1974 by Ernst Widmer begins with a movement entitled Horizontal — a constant held E, as flat and uninflected as the horizon itself, combined with valve noise to evoke wing noise, occasional elephant-like outbursts and then pianissimo sung notes. Vertical, the second movement, uses a motif of arpeggiated notes descending from an initial held note by one of the quartet, giving an atmosphere much like that found in Brian Eno’s Music for Airports of 1978. Obliquo and Canone, the following movements, are fanfare-like and short, both under a minute long, with noise from mouthpieces removed from the instruments adding some spice.

Tangente, the final movement of Panorama, opens up in almost liturgical fashion. The liner-notes mention that this could be seen as an “adagio of Brucknerian seriousness”, but the sound-world here is, to these ears, most evocative of Pärt, with a recurring motif of an ascending minor third.

Partikel, by Daniel Lienhard, is based, as the composer mentions, on mosaic tiles, each section “making sense as part of a greater whole.” A note series, which varies in timings, unifies the piece. Again, we have some sort of similarity in method, if not in sound, to Brian Eno, whose Discreet Music uses Pachelbel’s Canon in somewhat the same manner, slowing down or speeding up the note values until the piece becomes a wash of color, as Partikel certainly does in its last two minutes before it fades out.

Andreas Pfluger, who has worked recently with the Prague State Opera in productions of his operas The Physicists and Grand, is included on this release with Resonances of 1987. The piece, according to the composer stems from “the idea of time that dissipates that belonged to the future and in a moment will already belong to the past.” Of the seven movements here, which are numbered, but without titles, the fifth is particularly striking, opening with the quiet drone of airplanes, which builds to a fortissimo section that ends suddenly. The unsettling section that comes immediately after has one of the instruments briefly sounding almost like, and I’m not kidding, a cello.

Closing Disc 1 is Roland Moser, who studied with Sandor Veress and is a member of the New Horizons Ensemble of Berne. Ton in Ton pulls material from an earlier work, Bilderflucht of 1990, which was performed by different orchestral groups, one of which was a horn quartet. This material for horn quartet was pulled, with introductory and closing material added. The new material is generally - aside from the initial dying chord - fanfarish in nature, surrounding the quiet and more pensive central section.

All but one of the pieces on Disc 2 were composed in the 1950s. This volume starts off with the Op. 20 Three Pieces for Four Horns by Juliusz-François Zbinden, composed in 1953. The prelude that opens the work fits into typical sonata ABA form. The Aria, as one would expect, focuses in one melodic line, performed while the other horns provide rhythmic and chordal support. The melody is repeated, with muted soloist — the movement sounding like an occasionally wry look back — a slightly sarcastic nostalgia. The following finale tosses the melodic line from horn to horn, which the Hornquartett Zurich do faultlessly. 

The following piece by Richard Flury, by its very name, implies a certain sense of the established sound of what horns “should” sound like, and indeed we have a far more conventional tone established at the outset of the first movement. The writing here calls up the sound of over a generation before, not far removed from the Légende by Templeton Strong on Disc 1. 

Equally, one can tell by the name that we have a different approach with the following work, the Divertimento preistorico of Carlo Florindo Semini, who studied in Italy during the ’Thirties. Upon his return to Switzerland, be worked for Swiss-Italian Radio, becoming its Head from 1966 to 1980. Regarding the Divertimento, this is program music, tracing the early development of Mankind, beginning with a sort of curtain-raiser introduction that evokes the wilderness of the earliest of days on Earth. The piece has humour, too, with its second movement, in which cavemen make their first appearance in a sort of awkward march. By the third movement, which serves as a sort of adagio to this divertimento, Mankind builds houses, and in the final triumphant movement, they celebrate the harvest. The piece holds interest, but to these ears doesn’t make as substantial a statement as the Zbinden or the Pfluger works do.

Alphonse Roy’s Horn Quartet follows. Roy studied with Volkmar Andreae, of Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra fame. He also enjoyed a long career playing flute, first in the Lugano Orchestra and then the Geneva-based Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Roy’s creative output centres on chamber/small ensemble music. A bit of a surprise in the centre of the somewhat pensive middle Andante is, before a pause, the familiar DSCH name motto of Shostakovich, only here it is transposed down a fourth. This motto isn’t developed in the movement to any degree, and the composition dates of Shostakovich’s DSCH-centred works make it unlikely that this is a specific reference, but its centralised location is certainly curious. The atmosphere is not so bleak or obsessive as that in Shostakovich’s Op. 110, but instead has a warmth about it. The final Allegro deciso is an energetic fugue, tossing the thematic material back and forth amongst the members of the ensemble. An interesting work and one which I have returned to often.

Closing the disc is 2001’s Azur by Jean-Luc Darbellay. Darbellay, who graduated in clarinet from the Berne Conservatory, was commissioned to write a piece for the fiftieth anniversary of the Leipzig Horn Quartet. The piece, as the composer mentions in the notes, is a sort of “small scale requiem,” and indeed, the sub-title gives us a good sense of this: Tuesday, 11 September 2001…NYC under an azure sky. The work begins peacefully, if rather expectantly, suggesting the cloudless clarity of the blue sky on that day, then building in tension that subsides back to the sparse line of the held notes found at the beginning of the piece before making a more gradual build-up in tension toward the very end, which ends abruptly, suggesting perhaps the impact of the planes, though in the notes Darbellay mentions that the piece shows that “life goes on, despite everything”. The piece for me wasn’t particularly compelling, but I’ll leave the decision up to other listeners. 

Overall these two discs offer a consistent and interesting series of works. The performances of both the Dauprat and the Zurich Horn Quartets are top-notch, as is the recording quality, which matches the ease and clarity the instrumentalists display. Recommended, especially for fans of brass music. 

David Blomenberg

 


 



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