Here’s a new recording of unaccompanied works for horn by Jacques-François Gallay, one of the premier horn players in Europe during the first half of the 19th century (cover image linked from Amazon.com). The soloist is Anneke Scott, who performs in London with numerous period instrument ensembles including the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. You can read her biography for details on her background and experience, but the best introduction is to watch (and listen to) this promotional video for her new recording.
Impressed yet? The full recording is even better! As stated in the video, this CD contains selections from three of Gallay’s works for solo horn, Op. 27 (40 Measured and Non-Measured Preludes), Op. 32 (12 Grand Caprices) and Op. 58 (22 Melodic Fantasies). Each set of three tracks begins with a Prelude, is followed by one of the Caprices, and closes with one of the Fantasies. There are a number of factors which make this not only an outstanding, but also important, recording. Here are a few of the high points for me.
- The playing is very impressive. Scott plays with as much style and gusto as any soloist I’ve heard, and her technique on the natural horn is stunning. Scott mentions in the promo video that Paganini’s 24 Caprices for Solo Violin were probably an inspiration for Gallay’s works, which makes sense given their technical challenges. Scott is certainly up to the task, and pulls off even the most difficult passages with ease.
- Despite being a recording of works by a single composer, there is a surprising amount of variety. Scott’s willingness to push the envelope when it comes to dynamics and tempo makes for some very exciting interpretations. Another way she achieves this variety is by playing some of the selections (the Preludes especially) in different keys (and on different crooks, I would assume).
- While there are plenty of natural horn recordings out there, this one sets the bar quite high in terms of technique and musicality. Playing Gallay’s music – on any kind of horn – requires not only virtuosity, but also musical maturity and inventiveness. From a historical perspective it’s humbling to imagine the level of playing that Gallay and his contemporaries must have been capable of. There is an ethereal, almost other-worldly quality to the sound which isn’t really possible on the modern instrument, and it seems to me that playing these works (or at least attempting them) on a period instrument would give the performer more freedom and possibilities for expression. In my case I probably won’t ever have the natural horn technique to do these works justice, but in my experience attempting a piece on the instrument for which it was intended can bring new insights upon returning to the modern horn.