“French Masterpieces for Horn and Piano” = EUGÈNE BOZZA: En forêt, Op. 40; GOUNOD: Six Melodies (ed. Daniel Bourgue); FRANCAIX: Canon in Octave; DUKAS: Villanelle; POULENC: Elégie “In Memory of Dennis Brain”; SAINT-SAËNS: Morceau de Concert, Op. 94; MARAIS: Le Basque – Bernhard Scully, French horn / Joanne Minnetti, piano – Albany TROY1321, 61:36 ****:
Here’s an immediate corrective to any thought that music for horn is monolithic—that it needs must exploit “the jolly fanfare and horn fifth idioms which. . .dominated horn writing,” at least up to the Romantic era. This quote from the notes to the current recording are apropos of Charles Gounod’s Six Melodies—songs without words that cast the horn as a standin for an operatic tenor. As you might expect from the composer of Faust and Messe Solennelle, these pieces are often heart-on-sleeve emotional and are, frankly atypical of the fare on display here, which does celebrate the jolly fanfare, etc., more often than not.
Well, maybe not always jolly. In Poulenc’s angry, questioning Elégie “In Memory of Dennis Brain,” the fanfares are anything but jolly. They protest; they rage. The subject of Poulenc’s piece, great horn virtuoso Dennis Brain, died in an auto accident at the age of thirty-six, hence Poulenc’s seething unrest in this piece, which I find one of the most powerful by this often devil-may-care French master.
More central to the tradition of writing for the horn is Bozza’s En forêt, a piece destined to remind us of the French horn’s roots in the hunting horn of old. The work is based on the tale of St. Hubert, a hunter of medieval France who was “converted to Christianity after experiencing a miraculous episode during a hunting episode.” As the notes to the recording suggest, Bozza’s music is a catalog of effects for the horn as well as an effective tone poem that describes the hunt and Hubert’s conversion in graphic musical terms. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Bozza uses the same tune Haydn takes up in the hunting chorus from the “Autumn” section of his oratorio The Seasons. It’s apparently an old French hunting song, and it sounds as bracingly al fresco in Bozza as it does in Haydn. Come to think of it, I also recognize a hunting tune from Nicholas Méhule’s rousing overture La chasse du jeune Henri, which I always assumed was original but which, like the one Haydn used, is most probably traditional.
Canon features in both Franxcaix’s Canon in Octave and Saint-Saëns’ Morceau de Concert, like the lovely Dukas Villanelle, written as a competition piece. Unlike the elegant but severe neo-Classicism (before its time) of Saint-Saëns’ Morceau, Francaix’s piece is a jazzy little bon bon that’s nonetheless hard to swallow on first tasting: “Spaced one beat apart, the piano is pursued by the horn in direct imitation. The brain and ear have little time to treat the lines in their usual contrapuntal relationships. Just as the listener is becoming accustomed to the wry tightness of the tune, the piece ends. The perfect palette cleanser.”
Like the Francaix, Marin Marais’ toe-tapping Le Basque is short and sweet. Taken from a dance suite originally for viola da gamba, it became the “default encore” of the aforementioned Dennis Brain. It makes for an apt close to a refreshingly different recital.
According to hornist Bernhard Scully, the mother-son team of Minetti and Scully has been playing together “for three decades, since I was three years old.” Which would make Mr. Scully now a very mature thirty-something musician, who has played horn with the Canadian Brass and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (as principal), among other well-known ensembles. He’s a formidable player, with the ability to shock and awe in the rawer passages of the Poulenc, soothe the ear in the sentimental pages of Gounod. His mother, pianist and teacher Joanne Minetti, is a fine musician in her own right, but the most telling thing about their partnership is what fluid, seamless music they make together, as all ensembles of thirty years’ duration must. The elegant, atmospheric recording from Wild Sound Recording Studio (sounding not at all like your typical studio recording) is a decided plus. Recommended!
L’ Anthologie Sonore Vol. 1 – Mozart, Rameau, Milan, Ortiz, Purcell, Dalayrac, Janequin – Yves St-Laurent
The first volume in a sweeping anthology of music, mid-century recordings