WORKS FOR NATURAL HORN BY PIANO VIRTUOSI • John Stobart (hn); Barbro Jansson (pn) • ZUK 325 (67:02)
FREIHERR VON KRUFFT Sonata. POTTER Sonata di bravura. BEETHOVEN Sonata. RIES Introduction and Rondo. CZERNY Andante and Polacca Read more />
For aficionados of the natural or hand (valveless) horn, this program will be most welcome. For curiosity-seekers, it is also highly recommended. But be advised: An appreciation for this instrument can be an acquired taste.
That said, John Stobart is a true master of his instrument, the one composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and Schubert wrote for. Lacking valves, which appeared only around the middle of the 19th century, players were required to adroitly manipulate the right hand in the bell to obtain pitches not in the natural harmonic series. The practice died out after the invention of valves and has only in recent decades been revived in conjunction with the period-instrument movement. The horn is difficult enough to control without the added burden of changing the hand position for nearly every note, but Stobart makes it all sound easy. Well, most of the time. Even he cannot disguise the inherent difficulties of managing rapid scale passages in which some notes are open, some fully stopped (with the hand), and others are obtained with the bell partially covered to varying degrees. I cannot imagine anyone coping more accurately with these limitations than Stobart. Intonation is well-nigh flawless.
Open notes (i.e., with the bell uncovered by the hand) on a natural horn well played produce a sound of haunting beauty, and we hear much evidence of this on Stobart’s program of music by composers renowned in their time (early 19th century) equally as pianists, a fact driven home by the fact that the piano writing is, in many cases in these works, as demanding as that for the horn. (If you haven’t already, take note of the title of this program.)
Stobart (English by birth but whose career has been mostly in Germany, notably with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) excels also in refined musical taste and a poetic imagination, as does his Swedish pianist, Barbro Jansson, so much so that the listener might easily overlook the actual quality of the music. Generic melodic material mounted onto safe and predictable harmonic progressions inform most of this music, which from the standpoint of the 21st century will strike some as music justifiably forgotten. Yet taken in the context of its time, it must have sounded wondrous to listeners accustomed to hearing horns play little more than sustained notes and simple fanfares in orchestral writing. Stobert’s extensive and exemplary booklet notes put all this in perspective.
So, in summary, natural-horn aficionados can be assured of outstanding performances from both soloist and pianist; curiosity-seekers are well advised to give it a try, if for no other reason than to be astounded at what can be accomplished by a master of this fiendishly difficult instrument. I truly doubt that Beethoven, or any of his colleagues, heard their works played with such assurance and technical perfection as we have on display here.
Sonata for Horn and Piano in F major, Op. 17by Ludwig van Beethoven Performer:
John Stobart (Natural Horn),
Barbro Jannsson (Piano)
Period: Classical Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria Venue: Steinau a.d. Straße Length: 12 Minutes 19 Secs.
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