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Beyond Favorites
Richard O. BURDICK

Horn Trio Op.36 [11:24]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Second Organ Sonata (1937) [9:40]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Sonata for two pianos K448 (1781) [25:05]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.1 in C (1800) [23:40]
Richard Burdick (horns)
rec. August 2007-March 2008, location not given
I CHING MUSIC CD21 [69:46]
Experience Classicsonline

As apparently from most of his discs, Richard Burdick has recorded all of these pieces by overdubbing the numerous parts or each arrangement in a studio setting. He begins with the first movement of his Horn Trio which is spread over the disc, adding an extra track between each of the other works and forming a finale. Effectively written for the three horn parts, Burdick’s own music has some interesting sonorities, using unison notes and close harmonies to make the three parts sound like more than their sum. The movements might come across as a bit heavy all together, and this might be one reason for spacing them out – the tempi of each section generally being fairly slow and the mood mostly introspective, even in the more lively final movement. There is some impressive creativity going on in Burdick’s music, and I would be interested to hear more.

The other works are all arrangements of pre-existing works for multiple, or in this case; multi-tracked horns. There are plenty of issues which one can have with arrangements, but on the whole I am fairly neutral on the subject – I’ve been known to write these kinds of versions of pieces for flute orchestra, an ensemble with its own share of anti-social instruments. It would be nice to have all original wonderful works for such combinations, but those pieces just ain’t there, or not in sufficient quantity to bring in the crowds. There are however a number of reasons why the arrangements on this particular disc are often less than satisfactory.

The Hindemith, with its organ sonorities, works fairly well, but the natural balance of the horn’s range means that the bass lines are often weakest, so the natural harmonic movement is sometimes indistinct when compared to the original. The difficulties in achieving a true, non-bumpy legato with the horn also make for a rather more uncomfortable ride that I would have liked. The recording is OK, but with some funny interference which makes you think there is a mouse nibbling at the woofer of your right speaker, an effect which is even nastier with headphones. It’s not a loud effect, but is a distraction. I love Hindemith’s organ sonatas, but wouldn’t necessarily seek out the original on the strength of this recording, which is a shame: Richard Burdick stands 100% behind this music and plays with a clear conviction which comes through in the playing.

Next up is another big favourite of mine, Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos K448. As you can imagine, the busy finger-work which makes this music so exciting for piano is a tour-de-force on the horn. I’m afraid even with Richard Burdick’s undoubted talents, this becomes a Hoffnung farce. If it wasn’t apparent Burdick took this so seriously it would be fun to take this as a novelty item, but I’m afraid my head was in my hands through just about the whole of the first movement – the whole of the piece in fact. The Andante would seem to be just the place to allow for some rich expansion of the horn sonorities, but Burdick takes it at pace, and the tooth-grinding agony continues with all those high notes just about remaining stable, but never quite stable enough for Mozart. If you like P.D.Q. Bach you might love this, but I’m not sure this is what the performer had in mind. After the crazy jinx of the top horn parts in the final movement I can imagine Wolfgang clapping Mr. Burdick on the shoulder with gusto and guffaws: "sir, you are completely mad – let me buy you a big wine ...!"

The next super-ambitious project is Beethoven’s entire Symphony No.1. Beethoven’s symphonies cope quite well with being arranged for other instruments, and have strong enough ideas to work well enough on, for instance, the piano. With the writing less extreme than with Mozart’s originally-for-piano pianism, this is a version which does have a certain eccentric charm, although there are enough passages which make the music sound like a crowd of psychiatric patients arguing with each other using notes rather than words. Burdick again chooses a brisk tempo for the Andante, which is fine, but emphasises a sense of the music as a kind of alpine ländler. The Menuetto is also good, but has a ‘click-track’ strictness in the flow of the music, and those little solos are still something of a problem. The final Allegro molto vivace is a fun romp, but all those upward runs are never quite light and swift enough to keep up with the rest, so there are some moments of grand confusion.

All in all this is a magnificent experiment in extreme arranging for horn. I have to admire Richard Burdick’s huge ambition for his instrument and his skill in arranging all of these works, but the results will always be something of a bizarre curio in my collection – guaranteed to break the ice at parties, but not really a serious proposition for enjoyable listening. The Mozart is terrific music, but a very bad choice as far as arrangement for horn goes. The other pieces are impressive, and an education in what is achievable with horn. With admiration for Richard Burdick’s hard work, I would advise those interested to check out some of the samples on his site. This is the second of his ‘Favourites’, so watch out – there may be more to come!

Dominy Clements



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