INKPOT#55 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: MOZART Horn Concertos. Halstead/AAM (L’Oiseau Lyre)
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)
The Horn Concertos
Played on a copy of L.J. Raouxs Cor dOrchester, c.1795 by John Webb (1992)
Concerto in E flat K447
Concerto in E flat K417
Rondeau in E flat K371 (reconstructed by J. Humphries)Played on a copy of Franz Sthrs Orchesterhorn, c.1800 by John Webb (1989)
Concerto in E flat K495
Concerto in D K412
ANTHONY HALSTEAD horn
The Academy of Ancient Music directed by Christopher Hogwood
on period instruments
LOISEAU LYRE (Decca) 443 216-2
Newsflash This disc has just been reissued at mid-price in a 3-CD set which includes the flute, flute and harp, clarinet, oboe and other woodwind concertos. The catalog no. is 460 027-2.
This review is dedicated to a friend of mine, who simply loves the horn (you know who you are).
Ng Yeuk Fan
It is no wonder that it is difficult to not like the horn for it produces such a warm and lovely sound. So it is also with Mozart, who took a natural liking to the tone colour of the horn of his day. It is mentioned in the CD sleeves here that
Mozart was quick to develop strong preferences both for and against the tone colours of instruments – until he was almost nine, he was terribly afraid of the trumpet…
Mozart wrote most of these horn concertos for his life-long friend Joseph Leutgeb, an exponent on the horn. In those times, the horn was not quite the same as it is now. Valve technology did not develop until 1815-6, when Heinrich Stlzel and Friedrich Blmel were granted a Prussian patent for the newly invented mechanism (see left for an example of a valved horn).
Above: Horn with Stlzel valves, Goudot jeune, Paris, c.1825-50 (i.e. AFTER Mozart’s time).
Picture courtesy of the Thomas Bacon Hornpage.
Before then, players had to tune a horn using fixed lengths of tubing. Thereafter, by variously lipping and/or stopping the horn (by inserting a hand into its bell), the player can pitch all the notes in between the natural frequencies of the tuned horn. It is a known fact that the tone colour of the stopped notes varied markedly from those of the natural notes. Anthony Halstead, the horn player in this recording quotes an anecdote from the Rees Cyclopedia (1803) regarding this phenomenon. He tells us that even the most renowned horn player of that day was unable to totally disguise stopped notes:
We have often thought that Punto with all his dexterity produced some of these new notes with similar difficulty to a person ridden by the nightmare, who tries to cry out but cannot.
Used in this recording.
Hence, two different horns are used this recording, both of which are a modern-day copy of surviving horns from Mozarts time. Discerning listeners can try (very hard) to tell the subtle difference between the tone quality of these two horns. It is quite a pleasure to listen to either.
Halstead does not attempt to conceal that there are insurmountable difficulties in evening out the tone qualities of stopped notes. One can hear them without any prompting. They are especially evident in the Rondeau in E flat, K371. Apparently, as Mozart gained more experience in writing for the natural horn, (after K417), these problems became less evident.
For the newcomer to classical music for the horn, Mozarts Concertos are probably the best music written for the instrument. They are always a pleasure to listen to, as my friend would fervently attest to. I cannot agree with him more. For the seasoned enthusiast, this version of the Horn Concertos should be a welcome addition to any that you may already have.
In addition to exploring the issue of natural horns with the accompaniment of an all-authentic instrument orchestra, the performance by Halstead is scholarly, intelligent and accomplished. Though his playing is not as flamboyant as I had hoped, it is never less than noble; tempos are a non-issue here though very occasional execution problems prevent me from making a completely unreserved recommendation. However, taken in the light of an understanding of the natural horn and its technique, these minor problems add to the reality of this recording – the amazing virtuosity involved, the esteemable scholarly intentions – making for a definite whole-hearted recommendation to all categories of listeners.
Halstead plays his own cadenzas in all the concertos, choosing short restrained cadenzas over technically virtuosic ones. There is no wonder here as to this decision though one might find them lacking in bravado.
Hogwoods direction reveals many moments of dazzling ensemble playing. The Academys transparent tone is soothing from the very first bar and throughout. The accompaniment is stylish and Hogwoods sensitivity towards Halstead is commendable. One feels that the dexterity problems on the natural horn make it very difficult to sustain the Mozartian flair and spritely excitement quintessential of Mozarts music. Hogwood has done a brilliant job balancing the two. In this line of thought, it is perhaps not too impertinent for me to suggest that in the service of Mozart and his music, the modern valved horn was a real improvement over the natural horn.
Comparative listening on the Modern Horn:
Mozart: The Complete Horn Concerti. Barry Tuckwell (horn). The Philharmonia. COLLINS 11532
Thomas Bacon’s Hornpage – an attractive and very informative webpage on the horn by no less than the illustrious American hornist Thomas Bacon, currently Professor of Music at Arizona State University.Visit The Mozart Experience by Joe Moreno!
In Singapore, this disc is available at or can be ordered from Sing Discs (Raffles City), Tower (Pacific Plaza & Suntec City), HMV (The Heeren) or Borders (Wheelock Place).
205: 14.6.98. up.17.6.98