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Neue Alphornmusik
Arkady SHILKLOPER (b. 1956)
Fanfare for 4 Alphorns [2:27]
After Storm [3:18]
Hans-Jürg SOMMER (b.1950)
Danza Pastorella for 2-4 Alphorns [2:28]
Mathias RÜEGG (b. 1952)
Erbauliche Studie für zwölf Alphörner in Abwesenheit von Bergen [6:01]
Alpine Trail [3:49]
John Wolf BRENNAN (b. 1954)
Zum Gipfel und zurück for 4 Alphorns [5:07]
Procession for 4 Alphorns [3:12]
Alfred Leonz GASSMAN (1876-1962)
Trübe Stunden [3:23]
Song and Variations for Alphorn, Flugelhorn and 3 Horns [4:31]
Brain-(t)racking Work for 4 Bernatone Alphorns [2:15]
Daniel SCHNYDER (b. 1961)
Kadenz zum Alphornkonzert [2:53]
Hans KENNEL (b.1939)
Dance Five for 5-8 Alphorns
Crested Butte Mountain for solo Alphorn and 7 Horns [2:58]
Arkady Shilkloper (alphorn and horns)
rec. June 2006, Hardstudios, Winterthur

I’ve had an affection for the alphorn ever since a composer friend of mine, Joost van Balkom, shook up the composition department in The Hague with his gloriously banal ‘Happy Alphorn Polka’, played by the highly professional Herman Jeurissen in one of those deadly serious composers concerts. This was the late 1980s and most of the students were still suffering from the abrupt departure of Brian Ferneyhough and the decease of Morton Feldman, but we bad lads delighted in puncturing all that intellectual posturing, and ran through the Donaueschingen psyche with metaphorical underwear on our heads, well-informed but fun-seeking beer steins held high and proud. 

I’m delighted to be able to say that Russian wind player Arkady Shilkloper’s new album continues this grand tradition, being full of convivial and entertaining noises, all superbly played. 

Shilkloper plays all of the parts and instruments in each piece, which must have been a major feat of studio work – dubbing each part with perfect timing, without any real sense of losing the spontaneity of the compositional ideas. True, the ‘studio’ nature of the work comes through, with reverb-enhanced sound taking the place of vast mountain landscapes. You notice this most at moments of extreme antiphony, where the subtlety of the production couldn’t quite go as far as ‘throwing’ the acoustic effect over both channels. Close your eyes on some of the ensemble works however, and it’s like being surrounded by a warm, bovine pack of something quite disturbingly organic – not quite as ‘sweet and low’ as the Serpent, but quite distinct from the more penetrating conventional French horn. 

If you doubted that the alphorn could be a jazz instrument, sample Alpine Trail, which should be come an instant hit, with insane improvisational figures over an equally insane ostinato accompaniment. If you know and love the natural horn recordings by Hermann Baumann, then you will know about the strange and wonderful ‘min’ tuning of some notes on non-keyed brass instruments. This is an effect which crops up often on this CD, and will either make you ill or make you thrill. Personally, my trousers blow up whenever I hear such glorious naturally ‘false’ notes, about the only real non-western scale in our mean-tempered Western music. Zum Gipfel und zurück draws heavily on this effect, allowing four alphorns to melt together in some heart-stopping clashes. 

Extra effects are thankfully few and far between, but those longing for cowbells will find them at the opening of the Danza Pastorella. Incredible fields of sound and bizarre lifting-sagging tuning relationships are explored in the Erbauliche Studie, which also introduces some lush jazz chords which are a feature of some of the other pieces on this disc, like the Song and Variations. Rhythmic excitement is also an element in this work, heightened by ‘boomwacker’ slapping on the mouthpiece. 

Brain – (t)racking Work is, as its title suggests, a lively and energetic minimalist miniature of mind-mangling technical complexity. Another great highlight for me is Hans Kennel’s Dance Five, full of off-beat infectious rhythms to which you just have to dance, even if you haven’t yet had your daily schnapps. 

Before embarking on this review I was reasonably confident in summing up by conceding that, while this disc has a relatively short playing time, at least by the end of it you will have heard quite enough alphorn. The fact could hardly be further from the truth, and this disc’s brevity just leaves you panting for more. Thank goodness you can play these things more than once …

Dominy Clements



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