“Works for Natural Horn by Piano Virtuosi” by VON KRUFFT, POTTER, BEETHOVEN, RIES & CZERNY – John Stobart/Barbro Jannsson – Zuk Records

by | Dec 31, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

“Works for Natural Horn by Piano Virtuosi” = NIKOLAUS FREIHERR VON KRUFFT: Sonata in E Major for Piano and Horn; CIPRIANI POTTER: Sonata die Bravura in E-flat for Piano and Horn, Op. 13; BEETHOVEN: Sonata in F Major for Piano and Horn, Op. 17; FERDINAND RIES: Introduction and Rondo for Piano and Horn, Op. 113 No. 2; KARL CZERNY: Andante e Polacca in E Major for Piano and Horn, Op. Posth. – Barbro Jannsson, piano /John Stobart, natural horn – Żuk Records 325 [Distr. by Albany], 67:02 ***1/2:

It’s true that most of the composers on the present bill of fare were piano virtuosi. Englishman Cipriani Potter, besides composing nine symphonies (!), presented the British premiere of a number of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s piano concerti. Beethoven’s pupil and later assistant and life-long friend Ferdinand Ries concertized all over Europe, playing among other music his own very demanding concerted works. Though Karl Czerny gave the Vienna premiere of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, he eschewed the life of the virtuoso in favor of teaching and composing; his groundbreaking etudes are still a staple of piano instruction today. On the evidence of the music on the current disc, these composers didn’t scruple about demanding virtuoso playing from hornists either.

Odd man out is Austrian Nikolaus von Krufft (1779-1818) who, although he studied with the famous music theorist Johann Albrechtsberger, was a weekend composer in the manner of Charles Ives, devoting his life instead to the diplomatic service. In the field of Lieder, von Krufft is a precursor of Schubert, and his Horn Sonata (circa 1812) shows his proto-Romantic tendencies, especially in its tender nocturne-like slow movement. But while von Krufft’s writing for horn is demanding, the piano part is not only undemanding but frankly pretty uninteresting, featuring simple harmonically staid chords and ho-hum runs and arpeggios. Even the Rondo alla Polacca finale offers few moments for the piano to shine though von Krufft puts the hornist through the paces with tremolo effects and frequent hand-stopped notes.

More interesting and virtuosic to boot is Potter’s Sonata (1834), which features a slow introduction and brief up-tempo finale surrounding a theme and five variations, the fourth of which is so grueling that Potter noted in the score, “The composer of this sonata. . . knows that these modulations are extremely difficult to execute well on the horn and counsels those who find them too difficult to continue at B.”

As in most of his later music featuring piano, Ries leaves behind his former debt to Beethoven and writes for his instrument in the brilliant style of Hummel or Kalkbrenner, at the same time exploiting the coloristic possibilities of the natural horn, from burnished legatos to rasping sfzorzandos, in a very attractive manner. Even more brilliant is the piano part in Czerny’s Andante e Polacca—so brilliant, in fact, that the intended soloist, natural hornist Eugène Vivier, refused to play it for fear of being upstaged by the pianist. However, the horn part is as graceful and varied as Ries’.

More so than that in Beethoven’s well-known Horn Sonata, where the piano really is very much front and center, the horn often relegated to a supporting role rather than the other way round. Still, it’s a virile, spirited piece of High Classicism and one of my favorites among Beethoven’s early works.

I’ve heard more athletic renderings of this Sonata than the performance by Jannsson and Stobart. (My favorite features Martin Jones and David Pyatt on the Erato label, though Pyatt does use a valved horn.) On the other hand, the playing in the Potter, Ries, and Czerny is marked by both color and drama; some of the drama comes from the fact that Potter and Ries demand the near impossible of the hornist, although Stobart seems to acquit himself about as well as a player possibly could. Plus, this recital brings us some little-known music of real merit. So, for horn fanciers and fanciers of early Romantic music in general, this decently recorded disc (crisp and clear but lacking in warmth) is well worth considering.

— Lee Passarella

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