Strauss 1 on Alto Horn

Here’s another interesting LP I came across in our music library, Kings of Brass, featuring the world-renowned Black Dyke Band. I’ve posted about this ensemble before, and their virtuosity and musicianship always impress me. This particular LP, which has also been released on CD, contains mostly orchestral transcriptions for brass band, including Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and the Scherzo from Borodin’s Symphony No. 2.  But what caught my attention was the inclusion of the Finale to Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1, arranged here for E-flat alto horn solo and brass band. For those who may not be familiar with the E-flat alto horn, I highly recommend the “Tenor Horn/Alto Horn FAQ” from John Ericson’s Horn Articles Online, as well as  Al’s Mellophone Page.  Both contain descriptions of the instrument as well as some historical details.  In brief, the E-flat Alto Horn is a very different instrument from the modern double horn, and I was really interested to hear how the Strauss sounded on it.  The arrangement by Gordon Langford is quite well done, with the E-flat cornets pulling off the woodwind and violin parts with precision and delicacy.  Soloist Kevin Wadsworth plays with a great sound and lots of musicality.  There are a few places where the solo part is altered – I’m assuming due to the range of the alto horn – but overall the musical content of the original is preserved.  One thing I think horn players can take away from this recording is the relative lightness of sound and articulation on the alto horn.  Sometimes horn players really blast away at this piece, which I don’t think is entirely convincing – it is, after all, early Strauss.  Should we try to imitate the sound of the alto horn?  Probably not, but we can certainly experiment with lighter tonguing and a less “in your face” sound on this piece. If nothing else, it might provide some variety. See the link below for a short excerpt from the LP, and check out the entire record or the CD re-release, because it really is a great album.

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