Horn Concerto No.1 in D major, KV412 a [9:03]
Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat major, KV417b [14:30]
Horn Concerto No.3 in E flat major, KV447 a [15:41]
Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat major, KV495 b [16:43]
Notturno in D major for four orchestras, KV286c [16:00]
London Symphony Orchestra/Peter Maag.
rec. aKingsway Hall, London, November 1959, bApril
1961, cWalthamstow Assembly Hall, London, December
1959. ADD DECCA ELOQUENCE
476 9700 [71:44]
Horn Concerto No.1 in D major, KV412 [8:07]
Horn Concerto No.2 in E flat major, KV417 [12:56]
Horn Concerto No.3 in E flat major, KV447 [13:59]
Horn Concerto No.4 in E flat major, KV495 [16:03]
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Alexander Schneider.
rec. 1986. COE RECORDS CD
COE 805 [51:05]
Mozart’s four horn concertos form the large part of
a set of five works that were almost certainly composed for
the horn player Joseph Leutgeb (1732-1811). Alongside the
Horn Quintet K407 of 1782, these works reflect the good-natured
though frequently mocking relationship between performer
and composer. For example, Mozart writes at the head of one
manuscript of his pity for Leutgeb, referring to him as ‘an
ass, an ox, a fool’. He later wrote the third concerto in
a mixture of black, blue, green and red inks. Leutgeb himself
has tended to been seen as a bit of a joke himself, later
retiring to Vienna in 1777 to run his father-in-law’s sausage
and cheese shop. Yet during his career he was highly regarded
as a horn virtuoso and, given his efforts to have these concertos
posthumously published, obviously took little offence from
the composer’s insults.
The type of horn that Mozart was able to compose for
at the time was valveless. In essence this meant that, instead
of being able to manipulate pitch by use of the valves found
on the modern horn, Leutgeb and his contemporaries would
have to have altered the pitch by using his hand to stop
the bell. The difficulties of Mozart’s writing in these concertos
is, therefore, considerably greater when played on a valveless
horn than a modern one. The result of this is that we seldom
appreciate that these were, at the time, virtuoso concertos
and that Leutgeb must have been a remarkable player.
Neither of the two recordings here use a valveless horn,
though the 25 years that separate them demonstrate the changing
perceptions of period performance. The earlier disc marked
the first of four recordings that Barry Tuckwell made of
these pieces (indeed, the first and third concertos found
here were the first that he made as soloist). His tone throughout
is typically mellifluous and he phrases with a great deal
of subtlety and sensitivity. These are exceptionally stylish
readings. Although it would be absurd to discount the contribution
that the period performance movement has made to our understanding
of classical style, it is still all too easy to forget that
there were great Mozartian ‘stylists’ whose music making
transcended the details of period practice. Bernstein was
one - I’m thinking of his remarkable VPO recording of the ‘Jupiter
Symphony’ - as are both Bernard Haitink and Sir Colin Davis.
And compare Karl Bőhm’s elegant way with Cosi fan
tutte alongside Simon Rattle’s overly driven, scrambled ‘period’ performance.
Peter Maag was also an exceptional stylist; eloquently attested
to by Tuckwell in the notes to this re-release. Accordingly,
the orchestral accompaniments here are sprightly, beautifully
phrased and strikingly detailed. The results are a little
more positive than we are accustomed to, lacking the refinement
of more recent recordings with smaller string sections, but
the sense of engagement with the music is absolutely irresistible.
The vintage Decca sound gives no cause for complaint, exceptionally
clear and with only minimal analogue hiss. I have a suspicion
that the recording may have been transferred at slightly
too high a dynamic level, leading to a hint of roughness
to the tuttis here and there.
The only qualms I have with the Tuckwell/Maag performances
regard the central slow movements. They are exquisite, but
nowadays we expect something a little swifter, more songful.
Jonathan Williams as conducted by Alexander Schneider on
the COE disc is frequently faster, arguably employing more
appropriate tempi. Otherwise the differences are fewer than
expected. The COE, shortly after their inception, play with
great taste and refinement, possibly without the last degree
of character exhibited by their LSO counterparts, but with
a leaner sonority resulting from a smaller string section.
Williams doesn’t have the refulgence of tone that Tuckwell
displays, but his phrasing is more ‘choppy’ in the manner
of period performances and he certainly varies the sound
of his instrument more than his predecessor. But these performances
are never less than completely entertaining.
Eloquence provide a useful supplement to the main works
in the form of Maag’s 1960 recording of the Notturno in D
for four orchestras, KV286. It is not one of Mozart’s finest
compositions but nevertheless deserves to be heard. Once
again, Maag’s sense of style results in a charming performance.
The COE release is a straight reissue and as such does not
provide a coupling.
Both of these discs are worth acquiring, the Tuckwell
particularly, and are generously priced.
The Tuckwell/Maag concertos would seem to have been previously
released on Eloquence
as 4674262 (albeit with a totally different cover
design and sourced from Argentina according to ArkivMusic).
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