INTO THE 21ST CENTURY • Jeffrey Powers (hn); Vincent Devries (pn) • MSR 1212 (79:07)
VIGNERY Horn Sonata. BALDWIN Appalachian Suite. BENTZON Horn Sonata. PILSS 3 Pieces in the Form of a Sonata
This is a wonderful, life-affirming disc that is expressly Read more style="font-style:italic">not hornist-only territory. Jeffrey Powers, presently principal horn with the Waco Symphony and a member of the Baylor Woodwind Quintet, is an expressive player who brings a sense of nobility to the music of this disc. His repertoire choices are fine ones too. His mind is clearly of an exploratory bent, for none of the four composers represented on this disc can claim mainstream status. All credit, too, to MSR Classics for getting this music to the public view.
Jane Vignery (born Jeanne Emilie Virginie Vignery, in 1913) was a Belgian-based composer whose Horn Sonata dates from around 1942. It is her only work for solo horn. Vignery studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Dukas and became lecturer in harmony at Ghent until her untimely death in a train crash in 1974. The engaging first movement is eminently approachable and uses horn effects (stopping) effectively. This is playful music, a perfect aubade to the program. The slow movement is similarly easy on the ear, leading to a light-as-a-feather finale. Powers and Devries are very much equals in this piece, and it is clear from the very start that they are comfortable partners (both players teach at Baylor University).
The work by the young Oklahoma-born composer Daniel Baldwin (b. 1978), the Appalachian Suite, receives its first recording here. It was commissioned by Powers, and first performed in January 2006. Baldwin writes frequently in the horn’s tricky lower-middle register, where a convincing legato is a challenge. Powers delivers a nostalgic, convincing account of the first movement. Baldwin’s language for the second movement, “Braving the Storm,” is more adventurous, but the third, “Oceans of Starlight,” veers dangerously close to Easy Listening, as does the finale, “At the Summit”
The name of the Danish composer Nils Viggo Bentzon, if it means anything at all to anyone reading this, will probably conjure up memories of his Det tempererede klaver (“The Tempered Piano”) of 1964–1996, a 13-volumed work recorded on 15 discs by the composer himself on Classico 210–225. Bentzon reins in his prodigious productivity, you may be glad to hear, for this Sonata that lasts a mere 14 minutes. But what a 14 minutes! By far the finest work on the disc, Bentzon’s assurance is evident from the very start. His harmonic language is always consistent, an occasional abrasive edge cutting across its prevailing lyricism. Much of the writing concentrates on the lower midrange of his chosen instrument, yet that is hardly a problem. The lyrical first movement and the nimble and agile second lead to the varied finale (a couple of small horn fluffs, at 3: 11 and 3:23 have inexplicably not been edited out). Bentzon’s harmonic language is varied yet consistent, and his music can generate remarkable power. Buy the disc for this sonata alone!
Karl Pilss (1902–1979) is a name hardly known today, but on the present evidence he was a supremely confident craftsman whose music is firmly in the Richard Straussian mold. A student of Franz Schmidt, he was active as a conductor and répétiteur (in Vienna) as well as a composer. The Three Pieces here are identified as “Sinfonia,” “Intermezzo,” and “Rondo alla caccia.” Straussian links are very evident in the “Sinfonia,” until its beautiful coda (where the harmonies become significantly more adventurous, taking Impressionism as a starting point). The “Intermezzo” is simply beautiful, while the finale returns to the hunting origins of the solo instrument (the opening is like a horn-call in search of an echo).
In short, an excellently presented and performed disc preserved in stunning recorded sound. As music per se, the Bentzon and the Pilss stand out as significant additions to the horn repertoire.
Sonata for Horn and Piano, Op. 7by Jane Vignery Performer:
Jeffrey Powers (French Horn),
Vincent Devries (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1942; Belgium Venue: Baylor University, Waco, Texas Length: 18 Minutes 31 Secs. Notes: Baylor University, Waco, Texas (01/20/2006 - 01/22/2006)
Appalachian Suite for Horn and Pianoby Daniel Baldwin Performer:
Vincent Devries (Piano),
Jeffrey Powers (French Horn)
Period: 20th Century Written: 2006; USA Date of Recording: 05/14/2006 Venue: Baylor University, Waco, Texas Length: 19 Minutes 30 Secs.