BRAHMS: Horn Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 40; KOECHLIN: Quatre Petites Pieces; BANKS: Horn Trio – Barry Tuckwell, horn/Brenton Langbein, violin/Maureen Jones, piano
Tudor 771, 53:57 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
This reissue (9-10 April 1987; originally recorded for AG Zurich) celebrates the marvelous art of French horn virtuoso Barry Tuckwell (b. 1931) who, coincidentally, made music years ago with violinist Joseph Szigeti, whose own inscription of the Brahms Horn Trio with John Barrows and Mieczyslaw Horszowski for Mercury set a high standard among recorded inscriptions of this most personal of the Brahms chamber works.
Not coincidentally then, does violinist Brenton Langbein set an opening tempo for the Andante that closely resembles the Szigeti inscription. A noble valedictory, the first movement becomes a kind of Introit to the “religious” intensity that the third movement Adagio–Mesto openly declares a Requiem. The Scherzo certainly enjoys a rhythmic thrust and scampering energy, but it, too, seems devoid of an essential mirth. Its own Trio section communicates a wistful nostalgia, an irretrievable loss that a soul attempts to console by a return to Nature. Even a decided “Roman” confidence in the horn part cannot assuage the brooding melancholy that bursts forth in the Adagio. The writing for valveless horn accentuates the natural sobriety and chastity of the affect, and Langbein’s violin does much to contribute to the austerity of the occasion. More than ever, we feel that Brahms chose a form close to the Baroque “sonata did chiesa” to express his mourning, likely for the passing of his mother in 1865. Happily, the last movement Finale in E-flat, reasserts the spirit of renewal; and Tuckwell brings the feeling of the hunt to the fore. Though less incisive than Szigeti is in this movement, Langbein drives the violin part hard, and Maureen Jones adds a sonorous series of peals from the keyboard. The magnificent blend of the trio moves to an exuberant coda, a tour de force for all principals, whose musicianship has been letter perfect.
Charles Koechlin (1867-1950), the late bloomer and acolyte of Gabriel Faure, found the musical miniature well suited to his taste for color pieces. The Four Little Pieces, conceived 1890-1909, open with a sober Andante in the form of an elegant march touched by a lyric gift; in the second piece, Tres modere, the piano acts as a harp while the horn and violin set a gorgeous melody that tips its hat to Faure. The Allegretto resembles one of the Brahms or Faure rainy-day pieces, quite dominated at first by violin and piano. The horn’s entry signifies a nocturne that Chopin might envy. The incredibly brief Scherzando pulsates gently and dissipates into space, a Cheshire Cat.
Don Banks (1923-1980) wrote his three-movement Horn Trio (1962) for Barry Tuckwell, Maureen Jones, and Brenton Langbein. Set as a conversation for three instruments, the piece evolves its opening rush of notes as a kind of signature, answered by falling seconds and fourths. The second movement moves meditatively, almost a violin sonata; the third a gloomy, modal Moderato of some energy, however enervated. The influence of Schoenberg, Berg, even Ligeti make their presence felt, yet the essentially lyrical character of the work is never far away, despite the dissonant indulgences.