BRAHMS: Trio in E Flat Major; AHO: Solo X; LIGETI: Trio – Marie-Luise Neunecker, Fr. horn/ Antje Weithaas, violin/ Silke Avenhaus, p. – BIS

by | Mar 24, 2012 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BRAHMS: Trio in E Flat Major Op. 40; AHO: Solo X for Fr. horn; LIGETI: Trio for Violin, Horn & Piano – Marie-Luise Neunecker, Fr. horn/ Antje Weithaas, violin/ Silke Avenhaus, piano – BIS multichannel SACD-1859, 59:16 [Distr. by Qualiton] [2/7/12] ****:
At first glance I was struck by the huge contrast of the romantic period Brahms Trio being paired with the avant and outrageous Ligeti Trio—thinking that they would appeal to vastly different listeners. But then in researching the album I discovered that there are already two competing standard CDs with the same pairing—on Bridge and Chandos Records. The BIS does add the seven-minute Aho piece for solo French horn.
The Brahms Trio was an unusual work at its time, since it gave the French horn a totally equal standing alongside the violin and piano, rather than just adding its hunting sounds and harmonic support of the other instruments. Although the French horn with valves had been invented in 1814—well before this work—Brahms insisted that his Horn Trio be played on the natural horn, without valves. Modulating to different keys is more noticeable on the natural horn due to stopped notes being required to play other than the instrument’s natural scale.
Most of the Trio is rather serious, with a longing feeling. Brahms’ mother had died shortly before he wrote it. However, the second movement Scherzo is delightfully playful and happy sounding. The third movement, the Adagio mesto, is one of Brahms’ most affecting and ardent slow movements. The closing movement returns to a more playful mood and has the most influence of the instrument’s hunting horn heritage.
Kalevi Aho has composed a number of shorter unaccompanied works for various instruments of the orchestra. He prepared for the writing of a horn concerto by composing this solo work which contrasts different approaches: first rhythmically strong open and stopped notes, next a faster section with repeated notes, third a synthesis of the first two, and finally the fastest material of the entire work—a synthesis of the whole thing. It is extremely virtuosic and frequently sounds like two French horns.
I am partial to some of Ligeti’s piano and orchestral music, but his Horn Trio leaves me unimpressed, I must admit. His interest in the French horn came from his early experience in Romania with shepherds playing notes of the natural scale on a folk instrument similar to the alphorn. So naturally that interested me with my Swiss heritage. The work is subtitled “Hommage à Brahms,” and was written in connection with the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. There are complex changes of intonation and delivery during the work. To my ears Ligeti seems to be trying too hard to be totally different and unconventional. But perhaps some listeners will have a wider ratio of acceptance than myself. The performances by the all-female trio are excellent, and BIS seems to have upped their original SACD recording resolution to multichannel 88.2K/24-bit PCM in this case (they don’t use DSD). It can be difficult to properly record the French horn, and the SACD provides a realistic and involving impression of the very extensive reflected sound it creates—something which wouldn’t be possible on a standard stereo CD.
—John Sunier

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