En-Cor – Works by BACH, BERNSTEIN, GERSHWIN and others [TrackList follows] – American Horn Quartet (Kerry Turner, Kristina Mascher, Charles Putnam, Geoffrey Winter – French horns) – Albany TROY1536, 53:24 ****1/2:
The American Horn Quartet (AHQ) doesn’t come from America. Four horn players all working in Europe met in 1982 to explore the possibilities of ensemble playing. They were all American by birth and had followed different paths, through orchestral and solo work, to form a touring group. More than thirty years later, they are the best in their field, with ten recordings on their discography, and this new one added last year. The founder and leader is Kerry Turner, a renowned composer, arranger, performer, and Principal Horn with the Luxembourg Philharmonic. Several of his works are heard on this recording. The newest member of the quartet is Kristina Mascher. She was Principal with the Brussels Philharmonic until she moved to Kerry’s orchestra in Luxembourg: they are also married. The other two players, Charles Putnam and Geoffrey Winter, are both in the Beethoven Orchestra in Bonn, with Geoffrey as Principal. All that orchestral playing must make it enormously challenging to schedule AHQ tours and recordings.
For this recording, the AHQ decided to assemble twenty short pieces they use to fill out concert programs (and, I expect as encores, hence the album name). They open with a rouser, Aram Khachaturian’s (1903 – 1978) Sabre Dance from his ballet Gayane as co-arranged by Kerry Turner. Next is Kerry Turner’s Fiesta Fanfare. Turner also co-arranged Claude Debussy’s (1862 – 1918) The Girl with the Flaxen Hair. Lowell Shaw, a noted horn performer, composer, arranger and publisher (he tends “The Hornists’ Nest”) arranged the next selection, the Pizzicato ostinato third movement of Tchaikovsky’s (1840 – 1893) Symphony #4. And Kerry Turner helped arrange Leo Delibes’ (1836 – 1891) Flower Duet from his opera Lakmé.
There is a shift to more contemporary music with two selections from Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin (1898 – 1937), then Lennon/McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby, and Henry Mancini’s Moon River. I hadn’t heard of the next composer, Lev Kogan (b. 1927 in USSR) but he specializes in Jewish music, and his Freilach on this disc is very klezmer-like. Selections from Leonard Bernstein’s (1918 – 1990) follow – Maria, America, Tonight – then a Kerry Turner transcription of Bach’s (1685 – 1750) Sinfonia 11(BWV 797) and a Kerry Turner original, variations on Waltzing Matilda, with off-stage horns and remarkable virtuosity,
Next are two more Bach standards, Air on the G-String and Fugue in G-Minor (The “Little”), BWV 1068 and 578 respectively, followed by the Andante in D-flat by Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896) an almost sacred sound. The afore-mentioned Lowell Shaw contributed two selections from his well-known (among horn players) Fripperies – #9 “Charleston” and #14 “Something in Two”. He tells the story of how he came to name these pieces, written for his wind students at the University of Buffalo. “I was looking for something to suggest the fun, frivolous, light-hearted nature of the music. The word “fripperies” came to mind, and it was several years later when I finally looked up the real meaning of the word. Something about a cheap, showy bauble of little intrinsic worth was the nicest of the definitions. Somehow, it stuck.” Both pieces have an appealing, rag-time quality. The final cut is a nice contrast with the opener – the Cavatina by Stanley Myers (1930 – 1993), a British film composer most famous for this theme from the creepy 1978 film The Deer Hunter. Arrangement is also by Kerry Turner. All together, twenty enjoyable tracks of horn music.
Recording was done in late May, 2014 with Gregory Squires in charge of production, engineering and editing. Sound quality is excellent, including the off-stage effects. This is the second collection of miniatures I’ve reviewed for AudAud that was financed through Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website. The first was The Hilary Hahn Encores: In 27 Pieces. Perhaps this self-financing model is ideal for collections of smaller pieces where each donor can be linked to a composer/arranger and composition. One feature of the crowdfunded albums I’ve seen is the requirement to list the name of every donor (and in this case, the more generous “Patrons”) in the booklet. Good write-ups on all the members of the American Horn Quartet, but unfortunately not a word in the booklet about the music on the disc.
1. Sabre Dance
2. Fiesta Fanfare
3. The Girl with the Flaxen Hair
4. Pizzicato Ostinato (Symphony No. 4)
5. Flower Duet
6. It Ain’t Necessarily So
8. Eleanor Rigby
9. Moon River
10. Freilach II
13. Sinfonia II, BWV797
14. Waltzing Matilda
15. Air on the G-String, BWV1068
16. Fugue in G-minor “Little,” BWV578
17. Andante in D-flat
18. Frippery 9 “Charleston”
19. Frippery 14 “Simething in Two”