The most recent issue of The Horn Call includes an excellent interview with Paul Austin, a member of the Grand Rapids Symphony and author of the popular text A Modern Valve Horn Player’s Guide to the Natural Horn. (Link takes you to the publisher Birdalone; this book is listed third on the page.) I first encountered Austin’s book as an undergraduate student, and although I wasn’t learning to play the natural horn at the time, I read through the book and found it interesting nonetheless. I even remember getting together with fellow students and playing some of the orchestral excerpts for two horns included in the book. As a graduate student I picked it up again when I was preparing the Beethoven Sonata on natural horn for performance on a recital. Austin’s book presents a logical, thorough explanation of natural horn technique, complete with exercises and historical information. Another connection I have to Paul Austin is that he held the same position I do, in the mid 1990s, I believe. At the time The University of Louisiana at Monroe was known as Northeast Louisiana University, where he was an Assistant Professor of Music for a time.
Getting back to the article, Richard Chenoweth is the interviewer, and together he and Austin discuss a number of important issues related to performing on the natural horn. One passage which caught my eye in particular is quoted below.
RC: [Richard Chenoweth] Are there any particular recordings that one can use for reference?
PA: [Paul Austin] Of course, recordings are also an excellent way to build a concept of the way the instrument sounds and can be played. With so many great natural horn artists, I do not want to offend anyone by making a list and forgetting a name or two. To hear our solo, chamber, and orchestral literature played on these instruments should be a part of everyone’s education, via either recordings or live concerts.
When I studied a Mozart Horn Concerto with Richard Seraphinoff, he frequently referred me to Dennis Brain’s valve horn recording. His clear articulation and clean playing set a fine example for me as a beginning natural horn student.
I just checked my collection and realized that I have nearly twenty CDs of Mozart’s solo and chamber music on the natural horn. I like them all, each for their own reasons. It is important to collect as many recordings as possible, so that you can become aware of the variety of approaches to the natural horn, which will assist you in finding your own voice on the instrument. (Richard Chenoweth, “Orchestral Notes: Performing on Natural Horn for Valve Horn Players, An Interview with Paul Austin,” The Horn Call, Volume XLI, No. 1, October 2010, pp. 43.)
Austin’s comments about recordings are spot on, and I think they certainly apply to all types of horn playing, valve or natural. My collection of Mozart recordings pales in comparison to his, but I do have several recordings of the Mozart concertos, three of which are on the natural horn. I like all of the recordings in my collection, and they each bring a slightly different approach to the table, whether it’s in the phrasing, tone quality, cadenzas, or other less definable characteristics. In case you’re wondering, here’s the list – in no particular order – of Mozart concerto recordings performed on natural horn that I currently have on my shelf.
Mannheim Mozart Orchestra, Thomas Fey, Wilhelm Bruns, horn (Profil, Hanssler Edition, remastered 2008) Read my review of this CD here.
I also have an LP to CD transfer of this recording, featuring Hermann Baumann and Vienna Concentus Musicus with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. For those looking to build (or start) a collection of natural horn recordings, any of the above would make a great start. I believe they are all still “in print” and readily available. And with some further searching on Arkiv Music, I came up with this list of additional recordings.
I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface – if you have a favorite recording of the Mozart concertos on natural horn not listed here, please leave me a comment with the recording information.
Finally, I have embedded below a few YouTube videos featuring some natural horn playing. I was able to find the Baumann recordings I mentioned earlier – they are really great – as well as another random natural horn video featuring Konstantin Timokhine . I only included the K. 417 concerto, but you can visit YouTube to listen all of them.