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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 1 in D, K386b (1791?) [8:19]
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 2 in E flat, K417 (1783) [13:38]
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 3 in E flat, K447 (1784-87) [14:54]
Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 4 in E flat, K495 (1786) [16:24]
Jacek Muzyk (horn)
Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio/Agnieszka Duczmal
rec. Adam Mickiewicz University Auditorium, Poznan, Poland, 8-9 February 2006. DDD
NAXOS 8.570419 [53:29]

Jacek Muzyk is principal horn of the Buffalo Philharmonic, having moved to the United States from Poland in 2002 to further his career. This appears to be his first solo recording. If so, it is hardly surprising that he should choose to open his career on disc with Mozart's concertos, the cornerstone of the French horn repertoire. 

As a calling card, this disc should serve him well. These performances demonstrate a nice full tone, smooth-edged with the faintest hint of vibrato on sustained notes. As interpretations, his performances of these concertos are charming and uncontroversial, displaying an easy virtuosity and phrased in long legato lines. Tempi are measured rather than fleet, but crisp articulation from soloist and orchestra prevent the tension from lagging. Agnieszka Duczmal formed the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Polish Radio in 1968 and has been the ensemble's Managing and Artistic Director ever since. Together, they provide Muzyk with sprightly accompaniment throughout. 

The slow movements - of the second concerto in particular - are perhaps a little less flowing than we expect in these period-performance-informed days, but they are light and sweet nonetheless. If I have any complaint about these performances it is that they lack a little in impact. The finale of the second concerto in particular could hit home with more strength. The closing allegro of the third concerto has a nice hunting call feel to it though, and the famous finale of the fourth concerto has a nice lilt. Muzyk also seems to emphasise beauty over humour - though Duczmal and the orchestra do not forget this vital aspect of Mozart performance. I do like his cadenzas in the first movements of the third and fourth concertos, though. Each is idiomatic and impressively showcases Muzyk's wide range. 

I note for completeness that the first concerto appears here in the version revised and completed by Süssmayr. 

Taken on its own merits, then, this disc is an excellent ambassador for Muzyk and will give pleasure to any purchaser. However, competition in this field is fierce. Just about every horn player worth his or her salt has recorded these concertos, some of them many times over. Barry Tuckwell, for example, has recorded these concertos four times. His first set with Peter Maag and the London Symphony Orchestra remains available at the lowest of prices on Australian Eloquence. His most recent set, originally recorded by Collins and subsequently picked up by Regis, is more in tune with modern expectations. It is fleeter overall, and in the slow movements in particular. It is also impressively complete, including an alternative Rondo to Süssmayr's usual completion of the first concerto, the concerto no."0" in E flat major and the fragment in E major K494a: total playing time 71:20 to Muzyk’s 53:29. It is also available at the Naxos price, at least in the UK. Not to be outdone, EMI has also fished a Tuckwell set out of its archive for its bargain Encore label. Tuckwell has a lighter and more flexible tone than Muzyk and it more adept at bringing out the wit in these pieces. 

Closer to home, Muzyk faces competition from no less than three other recordings of these concertos on the Naxos label. One of these is Denis Brain's legendary set, but even those allergic to mono recordings still have to choose between Muzyk's disc and two other digital stereo accounts: Milos Stevove and the Capella Istropolitana under Jozef Kopelman and Michael Thomson (formerly principal horn of the Philharmonia) directing the Bournemouth Sinfonietta from his horn. I have not heard either of these recordings, but the latter was greeted with considerable acclaim in the Penguin Guide and by both Gramophone magazine and Fanfare. It was also a little controversial insofar as it presented all of Mozart's music for horn and orchestra, including fragments, in new editions prepared by John Humphries. 

Whether Muzyk's recordings will enter the pantheon is doubtful, but no one acquiring this disc as an introduction to these works will feel hard done by. For some collectors, the low price tag, Muzyk's tone - generally broader than that of British players though not as meaty as some from the continent - and his pair of charming cadenzas may offer enough of a point of difference to justify the purchase.

Tim Perry



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