BRAHMS: Horn Trio; MOZART: Horn Quintet – Opening Day

by | Sep 24, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

BRAHMS: Horn Trio in E-flat, Op. 40; MOZART: Horn Quintet, Op. 407 (adapted for Horn Trio) – Jeff Nelson, horn/ Ik-Hwan Bae, violin/ Naomi Kudo, piano – Opening Day 7384, 46:47 [Distr. by Naxos] ( ****: 
The Opening Day Entertainment Group is labeled by themselves as Canada’s leading showcase for classical and jazz performers and composers. This is my first exposure to them, and based on this first listen—short though it is—it is definitely a label worth investigating. The Canadian Brass have apparently signed on with them, and the appellation on the front says that this is one of a series of “soloists of the Canadian Brass”, surely a worthy enterprise, as anyone who has heard this famous ensemble can attest to. The focus here is on Jeff Nelson, a 10-year veteran of the ensemble, and currently on the faculty of Indiana University, as well as former player in the Montreal and Vancouver Symphonies, and performance experience with the New York, Boston, National, and Cincinnati orchestras.
Despite the widely accepted understanding that Brahms, who knew the modern valved horn, and decided to specify that the Horn Trio be played on a “period” non-valved instrument, Nelson plays it, as do most hornists, on a modern instrument. This in itself does not detract from the performance even though one has to wonder why more horn players don’t take Brahms’s preference more seriously. No matter—this is easily one of the finest renditions of this trio that I have ever heard, marvelously played in all aspects with the perfect sense of darkness (his mother died, and this work was completed along with the German Requiem in the same year, the only two pieces he wrote then) and light (can anyone listen to the concluding finale with less than a feeling of exultation?). Tonal qualities of the horn are at the forefront of this recording, a sparkling and richly deep sound reflective of the great passion in the soloist’s playing. His partners are equally adept in their feeling and understanding of this work.
I have more issues with the reduced-size Horn Quintet. Mozart was extraordinarily concerned with sonority—there is a reason why he created much chamber music with different forces, and each one of these works is particularly attuned to the instruments at hand. This quintet is unusual in that there are two violas and a cello, and paring this down to a piano and violin essentially jettisons much of the exceptionally rich and overtone-laden middle and lower registers that a piano bass line simply cannot duplicate. This is not to criticize the performance, which is equally adroit and comparative to the trio; but as a concept I think it fails, and if you do not know the quintet by all means listen to an authentic performance before even considering this recording.
Nevertheless, this is a worthy contender for “best of” status as far as the trio goes, and the quintet makes an interesting companion. The sound is best of also, warm, detailed, and nicely resonant. An excellent issue.
There should have been much more music on this disc. There, I said it and feel better.
—Steven Ritter

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