From Beethoven to Present – The Sound of the Horn
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for horn and piano in F major, Op. 17 (1800)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Adagio and Allegro in A-flat major for horn and piano, Op. 70 (1849)
Jörg WIDMANN (b. 1973)
Air für solo horn (2005)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Trio for horn, violin and piano in E-flat major, Op. 40 (1845)
Mischa Greull (French horn)
Seung-Yeun Huh (piano)
Andreas Janke (violin)
rec. 2017, Radio Studio, Zurich
SOLO MUSICA SM268 [62.04]
Titled From Beethoven to Present – The Sound of the Horn this album contains chamber works featuring the French horn played by Mischa Greull who is accompanied by pianist Seung-Yeun Huh and Andreas Janke on violin. Of the four works, by far the best known is the Brahms Trio, a masterpiece scored for this fascinating combination of instruments. Greull is a principal horn with Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra and also a professor at Zurich University of the Arts. Incidentally throughout this recording Greull uses a modern valved-horn by Alexander, Huh plays a Steinway B concert grand and Janke’s Carlo Bergonzi ‘Hozier, Andrews’ (c. 1730s) violin is fitted with metal strings.
It was virtuoso horn player Giovanni Punto who was the recipient of Beethoven’s three movement Horn Sonata. When Punto premiered the work in 1800 with Beethoven at the piano it was, in fact, the horn player who was by far the better known of the two. Originally composed for the natural horn, today it is mainly performed on the modern valved instrument. Handsomely played by Greull and Seung-Yeun Huh the relatively modest yet most effective writing has been likened by Greull to a married couple in conversation. Originally titled Romanze and Allegro, Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano is regarded as one of the jewels of the horn repertory. Written in 1849 it is one of the first works of major significance written for the valve-horn. The work might easily be said to exemplify the composer’s emotional turmoils. Rather like a love letter in music, in the opening movement Adagio, Greull and Huh play with a yearning yet profound introspection and in the Allegro movement give a spirited rendition which feels forcefully uplifting.
Providing a contrast to the three works from the Romantic era is Jörg Widman’s Air for solo horn from 2005. It was a test piece for the 54th Ard International Music competition, first given at Prinzregententheater, Munich. Widmann has explained that it is a “piece of nature about closeness and distance”. Striking and accessible, requiring a virtuosic technique Gruell is clearly captivated by the piece reveling in its variety of sounds.
In 1865 Brahms wrote his Trio for horn, violin and piano to commemorate the recent death of his mother. The score, introduced at Zurich in the same year, was published a year later. Brahms chose to write the work for natural horn preferring the more subdued, rather melancholic quality, of its timbre rather than the valve-horn that had become more commonly used. Mischa Greull has explained how the work forms a regular part of his repertoire. Certainly, one can feel the death of Brahms mother strongly portrayed in the Adagio and generally during the work the journey through the grieving process is palpable. In the Finale, after a struggle, the mood eventually created is one of happiness and celebration.
It’s hard to fault the playing of Greull, Huh and Janke which is impressively focused and unified, with their respective modern instruments producing an attractive timbre. In particular Greull’s horn has a glowing, unclouded sound. Recorded at Radio Studio, Zurich the sound quality is vividly clear with satisfying presence and balance. In the booklet there are concise biographies of each performer, with Greull providing a short article. A slight grumble is that I required additional information about each of the works.
Quite outstanding playing from Mischa Greull and his partners in this judiciously chosen and engaging selection of works featuring the French horn. It would be good if they were now to turn their attention to the Ligeti Horn Trio, the composer’s homage to Brahms.