With the example of Mozart to inspire them, it remains remarkable that subsequent composers wrote so little solo music for the horn. Did the skilled players of the valveless instrument of the 18th and early 19th centuries mysteriously die out? One doubts it. After all, both Beethoven and Weber wrote some tricky--albeit low-grade--solo horn music and splendid material for the instrument in an orchestral context.
And, of course, the valved instruments for which Wagner and successors wrote brought about a previously unprecedented importance of the "French" horn as part of the inevitable color of orchestral music.
Still, after Mozart there is only Brahms, among the core composers, who fully exploited the instrument's potential in an extended solo capacity--and that in but a single work, his Trio in E-flat, Opus 40.
Brahms' Trio has been newly recorded by members of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players: hornist Charles Kovalovski, violinist Joseph Silverstein, and pianist Gilbert Kalish (Nonesuch 779076).
Their playing is highly accomplished, with the hornist notably able to shade tone and project finely gradated dynamics. But the violinist's tight, omnipresent vibrato quickly becomes trying and one wishes the pianist would expand with the music rather than forever tighten its rhythms.
The Nonesuch effort has had the further misfortune to appear simultaneously with a reissue, in compact disc format (London 414128-2), of the ecstatic 1969 recording of the same work by hornist Barry Tuckwell, violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.
This is one of those all-star productions that works in spite of its not being a perfectly integrated effort. Each of the three virtuosos more or less goes his own way as regards rubato and dynamics. But they all play so superbly--and without allowing ensemble to become excessively diffuse--that one simply listens enraptured to the gorgeousness of Brahms' spacious melodies.
London couples the Horn trio, as it did in the original vinyl-disc release, with a big-toned, heart-on-sleeve Perlman-Ashkenazy reading of Franck's A-major Sonata, while Nonesuch chooses Brahms' pedestrian Trio in A minor, Opus 114, tautly played by the BSO's Harold Wright (clarinet), Jules Eskin (cello) and Kalish.
Barry Tuckwell is represented as well by a more recent production--nothing less than Mozart's complete oeuvre for horn (London 410 283-1, 3 records). This is an imported set, only that portion devoted to familiar Horn Concertos being available as a domestic London release.
Tuckwell, in spectacular form (is he ever not?) throughout these six sides, has surrounded himself with a superb supporting cast. Particularly welcome is his collaboration with the Gabrieli String Quartet in a warm and joyous account of the Horn Quintet, K. 407.
The seldom-heard Horn duos, K. 487, have Tuckwell playing both parts in one of those commonplace miracles of recording science. But there is nothing commonplace about this richly inventive music or the vivacity and aplomb with which it is executed.
Included as well in the set are fragments of abandoned horn concertos and the aria "Se il padre perdei" from "Idomeneo," characterfully, if effortfully, sung by soprano Sheila Armstrong, with Tuckwell playing the horn obbligato and conducting, as he does in all the orchestral works, the English Chamber Orchestra.
Finally, Tuckwell sensitively directs and fulfills his solo capacity in the Sinfonia Concertante, K. Anh. 9, in which the other excellent soloists are oboist Derek Wickens, clarinetist Robert Hill and bassoonist Martin Gatt.
In contrast to Tuckwell's elegant playing of the four horn concertos here are the jovially brassy, outdoorsy performances of Alan Civil, dating from the early 1960s. The Philharmonia Orchestra is conducted by Otto Klemperer, his accompaniments predictably weightier than those of Neville Marriner, Peter Maag and Tuckwell himself in the three Tuckwell-as-soloist recordings. But Klemperer's work is, nonetheless, rhythmically lively and neatly complementary to his soloist's style.
Mozart's mighty C-minor Serenade for Wind Octet, with Klemperer conducting first-chair players of the Philharmonia, is the generous bonus on this handsome-sounding reissue (Angel Eminence AE-34410).