‘Eclecticism’ = LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN: Seven Variations on the Theme “Bei Männern,welche Liebe fϋhlen”; RICHARD LANE: Introduction and Allegro; PATRICIA MOORHEAD: Elegy; MAURICE RAVEL: Pavane pour une infant défunte; ROLF RUDIN: Rezitativ und Arie; JEFFREY RATHBUN: Suite for Oboe and English Horn; JOHN STEINMETZ: Suite from an Imaginary Opera – Carolyn Hove, English horn/Vicki Ray, piano /Rebecca Henderson, oboe – Crystal Records CD 823, 63:44 ****:
The English horn is an instrument capable of great expression, with its dark tone, subtle inflections and possessing its greatest sonority in the middle register. Often used for a very particular color and unique solo voice in orchestral repertory, including famous excerpts in Vaughan Williams, Mahler, Stravinsky and Berlioz, it is also a very difficult instrument to master and one tricky to write for. This collection of excellent works played wonderfully by Carolyn Hove illustrates what a fantastic sound can be produced in the hands of a very skilled player performing works by composers who truly understand the nature of the horn.
Carolyn Hove has been the solo English horn with the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 1988 and has also been a champion of new music of all sorts since her days with the Contemporary Chamber Players at the University of Chicago and Ralph Shapey. As I love the English horn and am very familiar with both the Chicago group as well as the LA Phil, this disc appealed to me a great deal.
The works selected here are, indeed, an eclectic grouping that includes a couple of familiar melodies; such as the Beethoven cello variations on a Mozart aria (“Bei Männern, welche Liebe fϋhlen” from “The Magic Flute”) arranged for English horn by Carolyn Hove and the well-known Ravel “Pavane”, also transcribed by Hove. In each case, these familiar tunes are heard with a new flavor and very attractive results. The Ravel, in particular, sounds natural on English horn and Carolyn Hove demonstrates her skills as a gifted arranger as well.
However, the real pleasant surprises in this collection are the pieces for English horn that I certainly was not familiar with. Richard Lane’s “Introduction and Allegro” is a charming two section work that has a rhapsodic, nocturne like opening, with an almost “film noir” feel and a very attractive rhythmically perky close. This work contrasts greatly with the “Elegy” by Chicago composer Patricia Moorhead. A dark, brooding work of drifting tonality, “Elegy” is intended to portray feelings of anguish for a relative of the composer’s who suffers from mental illness.
Rolf Rudin’s “Rezitativ und Arie” is a work for unaccompanied English horn which uses a series of technically challenging small motives contrasted with a bit of “cantabile” line forming a distinct second movement. The harmonic palate is diverse but tonal. The “Suite for Oboe and English Horn” by Jeffrey Rathbun is a very interesting four movement work for the two double reed “cousins.” Rathbun is the former principal oboist of the Cleveland Orchestra and is a very active composer of chamber and orchestral works. This charming little suite uses some standard instrumental patterns, such as a march, a fugue and a chorale to create pleasant symbiosis between two. The work reminded me a little of Poulenc in spots and Carolyn Hove is joined here very capably by Rebecca Henderson, of the University of Texas at Austin.
The closing work in this program is the John Steinmetz “Suite from an Imaginary Opera.” Steinmetz is a California bassoonist and this clever work was written for the International Double Reed Society in 2001. The English horn and piano work together in playing arias, dances and an apotheosis that do, literally, sound like they were extracted from some opera or even a film score of sorts. As the composer points out, most operas have a tendency to begin in light-hearted fashion and close with the culmination of some developing tragedy. In this case, the first “aria” is quite ponderous, but the dance is furious and energetic and the “apotheosis” allows the work to end in a very upbeat, nostalgic and “positive” finish. It almost sounds like a tongue-in-cheek ‘happy ending’.
I was quite impressed with this whole program of interesting, fun-to-listen-to music. Carolyn Hove is a terrific player who I have had the pleasure of hearing with the LA Philharmonic a few times. She is a former student of the Chicago Symphony’s great Grover Schiltz, who I grew up listening to. Vicki Ray is a wonderful and sensitive accompanist and I would be anxious to hear some of her work with the California EAR Unit! I am motivated to go hear Carolyn in LA the next time she is a featured soloist and I heartily recommend this disc to any fan of the English horn and anyone who simply admires good wind music played exceptionally well!
— Daniel Coombs