Recording Project Update: Music by Eurico Carrapatoso

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of my big projects this summer was recording several works for soprano, horn, and piano for a forthcoming album of music by Eurico Carrapatoso. I’m pleased to say that we recently wrapped up recording, and I thought it would be good to share a few observations about the process while details are still fresh in my mind. Thank you to my colleagues Claire Vangelisti and Richard Seiler for inviting me to participate in this project, and Bravo on your inspiring work!

Engineer/Producer: We were very fortunate to be able to work with engineer and producer Richard Price of Candlewood Digital on this project. Mr. Price has a fantastic reputation, and even if you don’t recognize his name I would be willing to bet that you own or have heard his recordings. I had not worked with Mr. Price previously, but after two solid six-hour-plus days of recording, I would recommend him to anyone without reservation! His incredibly discerning ears and easy-going demeanor made him a joy to work with as a producer and engineer. While I don’t know the exact technical aspects of what he did with microphone placement and other variables, I do know that the sound he was able to capture was great – warm and nuanced, with exactly the right balance among all three parts. And this was just from the raw takes! The final edited and mastered recording should be really fun! See below for a few shots of the stage setup.

Horns, Endurance, and Rehearsals: As I’ve mentioned before, much of this project emphasized high and light playing, for which I used an older Paxman Model 40M double descant horn. My sincere thanks go out to Craig Pratt for the generous loan of this fine instrument! There were a few movements on which I used my regular Yamaha 671 double horn, but the majority of the playing on this album is on the Paxman. In my preparation for the recording sessions I focused on familiarizing myself as much as possible with the tendencies of the instrument, as well as getting creative with some different fingering choices.  Despite the intense schedule (on both days we did a 3-hour session in the morning, followed by a 2.5 hour break, and concluded with another 3-hour session in the afternoon, plus about another 30 minutes on a third day to wrap up some minor things), my endurance held up well. For those that might be interested, I believe this success can be attributed to a few different factors:

  • Balanced practice between double and descant horn It was tempting to cram in lots of practice on the high horn, especially in the days leading up to the recording sessions. However, I can speak from experience that too much intense practice on the High F side can tire out your chops quickly! I didn’t practice more than 25 minutes at a time on the descant horn without a break, and always made sure to end each day on the double horn with some relaxing low register playing.
  • Mindful Warm-Ups/Warm-Downs I crashed and burned once in graduate school by practicing too much on the day of a recording session, and vowed never to make that mistake again. On each day I warmed up very lightly for about 25 minutes, beginning in the mid-low range and gradually expanding outwards (but still avoiding extremes). At the end of each day I warmed down for a few minutes, then followed up with light massage and alternating cool and warm compresses on my cheeks and upper lip for 5-10 minutes after getting home. *The cool “compress” was a soft drink can from the refrigerator, and the warm compress was a washcloth soaked in warm water. I was tempted to try some ibuprofen, but not really being in the habit of taking that type of medication I decided to forgo it in favor of the compresses.
  • Lots of Great Rehearsals One other major factor in the success of this recording was being able to perform and rehearse frequently with my colleagues before starting the recording process. It seems like an obvious assertion, but is probably worth mentioning anyway. Having performed and rehearsed this repertoire frequently just prior to the sessions made things go very smoothly for the most part. Most of our discussions during the actual recording had to do with minor variations in interpretation, and adjusting to the modified stage setup. Because of the sight lines and lighting, I ended giving lots of cues for both piano and voice.

Final Thoughts: Recording a classical album can be a grueling process, and the bar for technical perfection and artistry is extremely high. High quality microphones and a great producer will quickly expose any and all weaknesses in your playing! I’ve always found it a humbling yet enjoyable experience, though distinctly different from the act of live performance. Though a major part of the work is now complete, the project is still a ways off from completion. Now comes the editing, followed by mastering and various other procedures involved in the production of a commercial recording. Be on the lookout for more updates in the coming months!

New Video: Louisiana All-State Etudes, Set 2

Happy New Year to all of my readers!

For my first post of 2017 I am sharing a video recorded back in December; two Kopprasch etudes that will be used for the upcoming Louisiana Music Educators Association All-State Auditions. Although these auditions are generally held in September and October, many districts in Louisiana use them as Honor Band audition material during the spring. I last recorded these etudes about 10 years ago, so it was time for a new (and hopefully improved) version. As with the previous set of etudes in this new series, I’m working on a set of preparatory exercises to accompany them. Look for those in a future post and video recording.

If you’re interested in the equipment I’m playing on this video, the horn is my new Yamaha 671, and the mouthpiece is a Laskey 75G in silver plate.

Friday Review: Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn

rescuedFor today’s review we have a new recording by John Ericson, Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn. Ericson is Associate Professor of Horn at Arizona State University, and is a recognized expert on horn history and the 19th-century horn in particular. I’ve been looking forward to this recording for quite some time, and have avidly followed Ericson’s series of articles related to this project on Horn Matters. The entire series is well worth reading, but to summarize, Rescued! is the culmination of Ericson’s research into the repertoire and technique of the 19th-century single F horn, which is often overlooked by modern horn players. The written description of the CD is as follows:

Rescued! celebrates the forgotten works of a group of 19th-century hornists and composers. The music included in this recording was composed between roughly 1860 and 1910 and are quality works aimed primarily at low horn players of the late 19th century who still used single F horns. The works included in this recording are:

  • Nocturno, Op. 73 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonate, Op. 347 – Fritz Spindler
  • Melancholie, Op. 68 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Am Abend, Op. 71 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Gondellied, Op. 15 – Karl Matys
  • Lied ohne Worte, Op. 2 – Oscar Franz
  • Serenade, Op. 20 – Louis Bödecker
  • Lied ohne Worte – Josef Richter
  • Resignation, Op. 16 – Charles Eisner
  • Wiegenlied, Op. 69, No. 1 – B. Ed. Müller
  • Sonata, Op. 7 – Hermann Eichborn

Most of the compositions on this recording will be new or at the least unfamiliar to a majority of horn players. And while the works presented here may not have been written by the “A-list” composers of the time, they are still high quality and worthy of study. The scores are all available on IMSLP for free, and I think that Ericson’s fine recording will help revive an interest in them. Any would be perfect additions to a recital.

I’ve heard Ericson perform numerous times, and both he and pianist Yi-Wan Liao are in top form on this recording. The technical difficulties involved in performing on the single F horn are daunting: mouthpieces, crooks, accuracy, intonation, etc. Yet Ericson plays with exceptional musicality, not to mention spot-on accuracy and intonation throughout the entire disc. As one might expect, the sound of the single F horn is reminiscent of the natural horn – warm and velvety in softer dynamics, with a bit of sizzle at forte volume. The piano sound is also quite warm, accentuating (without dominating) the horn sound. Most of the works emphasize the lyrical capabilities of the instrument, although the Eichborn Sonata and a few others contain some nice technical passages as well. Listening to this disc, one might assume that playing a 19th-century single F horn is an easy task – if you’ve ever tried it you know that isn’t the case! “Wolf” notes are more frequent and difficult to control than on the modern double horn, and achieving any level of accuracy requires great skill and an exceptional ear. Bravo to Ericson and Liao for releasing this fine disc!

Review: Songs of Love, War and Melancholy/Mozart: Stolen Beauties

songsoflovegallaycoverI recently received two wonderful new discs for review from Anneke Scott, a phenomenal performer on both natural and valved horns. Scott serves as principal horn of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and The English Baroque Soloists, and also performs frequently as a soloist and chamber musician. In addition to her busy performing schedule, she has also found the time to record several albums of music by the great 19th-century horn virtuoso Jacques-François Gallay. The third and final volume in this series is titled Songs of Love, War and Melancholy: The operatic fantasias of Jacques-François Gallay (read a review of the second album here.) As in her earlier Gallay recordings, Scott’s natural-horn playing is expressive, athletic, and robust; in short, very impressive! She negotiates even the most difficult passages on the natural horn with beguiling ease. The selections on this disc belong to a repertoire that was extremely popular during Gallay’s day, but is less known to modern horn players. Here’s a brief quote from Scott’s liner notes, which are copious and very informative.

During this period the opera fantasia offered virtuoso musicians the opportunity to demonstrate a number of aspects of their playing that were viewed as highly desirable by their audiences. The choice of themes, especially if Italian in origin, was à la mode and their settings offered the musician the opportunity demonstrate his amazing skills both in performing a melody in a vocal style as well as showing off with spectacular embellishments.

I think the same holds true today for these works, though they do contain plenty of “real” music, and not just virtuosic display. It is also interesting that while Gallay’s Op. 27 Preludes and Op. 57 2nd Horn Studies have become a standard part of the modern horn player’s curriculum, these equally (if not more so) substantial pieces remain more or less unknown. I was familiar with operatic fantasias for horn, mainly through Thomas Bacon’s edition and recording of C.D. Lorenz’s Fantasie, Op. 13, but I knew very little about Gallay’s contributions to the genre. One factor that probably contributes to this disparity is the difficulty in tracking down modern editions of these works. The Op. 46 Fantaisie sur ‘L’elisir d’amore’ can be found on IMSLP, and Op. 49 is available through Koebl, but I was unable to find either public domain or commercial editions of the other works. I contacted Ms. Scott, and she quickly responded with the following information.

Now, all the Gallay pieces are available but right now it’s a bit tricky. I published them as part of the crowdfunding for the original disc. (They’re all here: http://www.plumstead-peculiars.com/Index.html). But just what with one thing and another haven’t had the chance to set up selling myself. They will be available from www.corniworld.com (Sheet music) and www.devinemusic.com (downloads) I think from July onwards.

So, it looks like new editions of these will be available very soon. These are lovely pieces – especially the three works for horn, voice, and soprano – and would make excellent editions to any recital.

stolenbeautiescoverThe second recording for review today is Mozart: Stolen Beauties, a collaboration between Anneke Scott and the period instrument ensemble Ironwood. Here’s a brief introduction to the album, again from Scott’s liner notes.

In this disc we take as our central point one of Mozart’s most memorable works for horn – the Quintet in E-flat major, KV407. Rather than choosing the more common path of combining this work with a number of other late 18th- and early 19th-century works for horn and strings…we have illustrated the various ways in which Mozart’s works have been ‘appropriated’ for the horn, or, in one case how Mozart ‘appropriated’ a work for himself.

The result of this novel approach to programming is an album full of obscure, but nonetheless beautiful, works for horn and various combinations of strings and piano. The exception is of course Mozart’s well-known Quintet, but the interpretation recorded here makes for very enjoyable listening as well. There is a freshness and presence to this album that rivals anything I’ve heard from modern instruments. Like the Gallay recordings, the liner notes are meticulously researched, yet pleasant and easy to read. Horn players will be especially interested in the recording of Michael Haydn’s Romance in A-flat major, which bears a striking resemblance to the Romanza movement from Mozart’s K. 447 concerto. Scott’s explanation and subsequent thesis regarding this peculiar work are quite convincing. I must say that after listening to both works back to back the Haydn seems more musically interesting! The music on this recording is a little more difficult to track down than the Gallay disc. Here are some additional details from Ms. Scott.

For the music on the Mozart disc it’s a bit more tricky. The Mozart quintet is quite easy to get hold of. I thought the Michael Haydn was as well but now looking for it it seems more tricky. We used a copy of the original edition – maybe I should do an edition of that myself? The Punto duets I found in a library in Russia and did my own edition which again I should make available through Plumstead Peculiars. I did the same with the Anon variation – these are available from Tanglewind Music – http://www.tanglewindmusic.com/Site/Historical_%26_Urtext.html. They’ve got the variations down as being by Puzzi which is a misreading of the manuscript, also the extra variation is missing from this edition.
The Kegelstatt though… I did my own edition for this piece so it’s kind of ready to publish but I’d like to do a lot of work on it first. There’s a lot of “textural” things in it – for example places where Livius obviously made a mistake (some strange viola figurations) which needed correction and other places where he deviates from the original Mozart. Eventually I would like to publish this but there’s a lot of information that I’d like to include so that performers have various options and can make their own decisions. Basically it needs a critical report. So it’s on the cards but I need to find the time to do it.

Also of note is Scott’s use of a hybrid instrument, a natural horn by Courtois Frères, Paris, c. 1835, with a removable set of piston valves (sauterelle) by Antoine Halary, Paris, c. 1840. She seamlessly combines both hand horn and valve technique in her recording of Mozart’s Concertante for pianoforte, horn, viola, and cello, arranged by Barham Livius.

On a related topic I’ll close with a general statement about Scott’s natural horn playing, which incorporates lots of different colors and expressive contrasts. There are varying schools of thought regarding hand horn technique, one of which emphasizes absolute evenness and consistency of sound between stopped and open notes. While there is merit to this approach, I personally enjoy hearing a difference in stopped and open timbres, especially when in the hands of a consummate musician like Anneke Scott. When performed tastefully, these contrasts add an elusive, but very important, quality to the music of that era. As a primarily modern (valved) horn player, I have been inspired by these recordings to strive for more expression and timbral variations in my own playing. I think you will as well!

Recording Reviews: Uncommon Ground & En-Cor!

For this week’s post I have two brief recording reviews. First up is a recent release on the MSR Classics label, Uncommon Ground: Contemporary Works for Trumpet with Horn, Trombone, Piano, and Organ. I was particularly interested in this album because three of the performers were classmates of mine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: Amy Schendel, trumpet, Todd Schendel, trombone, and Bernhard Scully, horn. All three have gone on to distinguished careers as performers and educators, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to perform with them. A majority of the tracks on Uncommon Ground are world premiere recordings, including two works for brass trio, Jean-François Michel’s Suite pour Trompette, Cor et Trombone (1994), and Joseph Blaha’s French Suite (2011). Both are very fine compositions, and highly recommended for those looking to expand their knowledge of the brass trio repertoire. For a little bit of background on the Michel, here’s a quote from my article on brass trio repertoire in the most recent issue of The Horn Call.

Michel is a professor at the Haute Ecole de Musique in Fribourg, and is a prolific composer and arranger for brass. The first movement opens with extended solo fanfares for the horn and trombone, followed by a faster section full of syncopation and mixed meters. The lyrical second movement makes for a nice contrast with the faster, more energetic outer movements. This piece puts some new twists on a traditional form, with plenty of great writing for all three instruments. “Brass Trio Repertoire: Beyond Poulenc”, The Horn Call, May 2015.

Joseph Blaha serves on the faculty at Roanoke College, and his French Suite was commissioned by the Contrapunctus Brass Trio (Amy Schendel, Todd Schendel, Bernhard Scully). I had the opportunity to hear these players in a live performance of the piece at the 44th International Horn Symposium in Denton, TX, and was very impressed. Modeled after the French Suites of J.S. Bach, Blaha’s trio makes frequent use of counterpoint, with plenty of interesting lines for all three instruments.

The playing on this album is of the highest caliber, as one would expect, and I was especially impressed by the clear, focused sound and impeccable intonation throughout. All three players are comfortable with the entire range of their instruments, and are able to produce, in my opinion, exactly the “right” sounds required by the music.

The second and final review for today is En-Cor!, featuring the American Horn Quartet. Financed primarily through a Kickstarter campaign, En-Cor! is likely the final recording by one of the most decorated brass ensembles in the world. After nearly 30 years of concerts, competitions, master classes, and residencies, the AHQ will be collectively retiring in 2015. (For much more information on the history of the AHQ, see Kerry Turner’s article in the May 2015 issue of The Horn Call). Though the ensemble has recorded most of the major works for horn quartet, including group member Kerry Turner’s own fine compositions,  the CD booklet notes that there were many other lighter works in their repertoire that had not yet been recorded. Over the years, these brief compositions became audience favorites, and were often used as encores at AHQ concerts. Thus, En-Cor! is in many ways a retrospective of some of the quartet’s finest playing, spanning everything from Bach to Bernstein. As for their performances, I can’t really say much that hasn’t already been said. If you’re a horn player, chances are you’ve heard of the American Horn Quartet, and if not, buy this album – or any of their albums – today. You will hear playing that pushes the boundaries of what’s possible on the instrument, all the while with warmth and expressiveness to rival any other chamber group out there…period.

The AHQ holds a special place in my heart because I grew up listening to their recordings. There are only a handful of brass ensembles that I’ve listened to consistently over my 20+ years as a horn player, and the American Horn Quartet is one of them. Having heard them live multiple times, I can also say that this recording is representative of their actual abilities and sound. What you will hear is not recording studio magic; they really do sound this good! And while it is a little saddening to know that the group will be retiring after their final performances at the 47th International Horn Symposium, I am comforted by two things:

  1.  Their many fine recordings, including this one, which have left such an incredible impression on generations of horn players.
  2. The handful of other professional horn quartets currently performing, many of them modeled after the AHQ’s example.

To paraphrase the closing of Kerry Turner’s article in The Horn Call, when the AHQ began 30 years ago, a horn quartet was considered more of a novelty than anything resembling a legitimate chamber ensemble. Today, there are many other brass chamber groups (not just horn quartets) who have benefited from the AHQ’s groundbreaking career. And while the reviews, recognition, and awards the AHQ has garnered over a nearly 30-year period would be considered remarkable in any field, their true legacy is the legions of horn players they have influenced and inspired.

Semester Preview, Part 2: Orchestral Bucket List, Horn Conferences, Book Projects, and More!!

UntitledHere’s Part 2 of my semester preview, with some more brief descriptions of what will be happening in Spring 2015 and beyond (Part 1 is located here).

Orchestral Performances: This spring I’ll have the opportunity to perform on three major orchestral works I’ve never played before: Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1o with the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. I’m especially excited to perform the Schumann, as it has long been on my bucket list of orchestral works.

Horn Conferences: I have plans to perform and present at two large horn conferences this year, the Southeast Horn Workshop, March 6-8 at LSU in Baton Rouge, LA, and the 47th International Horn Symposium, August 2-8 at The Colburn School in Los Angeles, CA. I’ll be performing a new arrangement of mine, Romance, by C.M. von Weber (published by Cimarron Music Press) at the Southeast Workshop, and for the International Horn Symposium I will hopefully be performing the premiere of a new work for horn and harp that I commissioned with assistance from the IHS’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund. I say “hopefully” because while my proposal to perform has been submitted, I won’t find out if it has been accepted until February. Once I have more information about the premiere I’ll post it here. The new work, written by internationally recognized composer Gary Schocker, is entitled In Arkadia. My collaborator for this work will be Dr. Jaymee Haefner, who teaches harp at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Haefner is a fantastic harpist, and we worked together previously on my recording of Jan Koetsier’s Sonata for Horn and Harp.

Solo Duet Training for Horns: My plan this spring is to finish work on Solo Duet Training for Horns, a forthcoming book for Mountain Peak Music. While I will be posting periodically to this blog and updating the job listings, most of my research and creative activity time will be spent on this project. As of now I anticipate a release in early summer of this year. Will post more details as it nears completion.

Reviews, etc. Although I won’t be posting new content every week, I plan to review a couple of horn related publications I obtained late last year: Randy Gardner‘s new book Good Vibrations: Masterclasses for Brass Players, and En-Cor! the latest (and final?) recording from the American Horn Quartet.

It’s shaping up to be a very busy, but fun and engaging semester. Good luck and best wishes to my students and colleagues for the same!

Recording Review: Table for Three

Table for Three is a brand new recording from Summit Records featuring three very prominent figures in the world of brass playing – John Ericson (horn), Douglas Yeo (bass trombone), and Deanna Swoboda (tuba). All three are members of the brass faculty at Arizona State University, with distinguished careers as performers and educators. The album contains an eclectic mix of solo and ensemble music, with an emphasis on recently commissioned and arranged works for the trio of horn, bass trombone, and tuba. Brass trio recordings tend to be pretty rare, with one challenge being assembling enough repertoire to make for an interesting and marketable album. The artists on Table for Three have certainly met that challenge, and the result is a really great recording! I have some specific comments about the album, but first here is a list of what’s on it. The asterisks indicate works which were commissioned by or written for the artists.

  • Elizabeth Raum, Relationships*
  • Louis Moreau Gottschalk/arr. Ron Geese, The Dying Poet
  • Anton Reicha/arr. John Ericson, Suite of Trios from Op. 82 and Op. 93 (2 Suites)
  • John Harmon, Silhouette for Tuba and Piano
  • Vaclav Nelhybel/adapted by Douglas Yeo, Trio for English Horn, Viola, and Tuba
  • William Schmidt, Sonatina
  • J.S. Bach/arr. Ralph Lockwood, Wenn Sorgen, auf mich Dringen
  • Benjamin McMillan, Fleeting Visions*
  • Heinrich Isaac/trans. Kenneth Singleton, Three Pieces
  • Paul Ferguson, Table for Three at Chez Janou*

Drawing upon a wide variety of styles, the works recorded here represent approximately 500 years of Western music history, from Renaissance through present day. The performers are more than equipped to meet the challenges of reproducing these various styles, doing it all with ease, sensitivity, and great sounds – both individually and as an ensemble. Though there are many positive things I could say about Table for Three, here is what struck me most about the album upon my first hearing – and which was later confirmed on repeated listening.

  • Ensemble Blend, Balance, and Precision: If you haven’t heard this particular combination of brass instruments before, you will probably be surprised by the agility and flexibility it’s capable of in the hands of great players. The overall timbre tends toward the lower, “darker” end of the spectrum simply because of the instrumentation, but there are plenty of exciting moments with just the right amount of “sizzle” in the sound. The ensemble playing is a model of precision and sensitivity, with spot-on intonation. Each player is adept at matching the style, phrasing, and articulations of the other members.
  • Reicha Trios Work Well for Lots of Different Instruments: Among the highlights of this album for me are the two suites from the horn trios, Op. 82 and 93 of Anton Reicha. Long a favorite of horn players, these works by one of Beethoven’s friends – and direct contemporaries – are delightful, and John Ericson’s arrangements for horn, bass trombone, and tuba work very well. The trio plays these pieces with a warm, rich sound, but with plenty of energy. Another suite of these trios exists in an arrangement by Bill Holcombe for trumpet, horn, and trombone. Though the overall timbre is different, the “high brass” version is also very effective.
  • Chamber Music is What You Make of It: An underlying theme of this album – as mentioned in the liner notes – is that chamber music is a wonderfully rewarding way to get to know your musical colleagues, and to explore (and create) repertoire that might otherwise be ignored. The musical material you choose is of course important, but with the right people, virtually any combination of instruments can be developed into an engaging and inspiring ensemble. Table for Three is a perfect example of the artistic potential of a non-conventional ensemble, and is highly recommended!

Recording Review: Orchestral Excerpts for Low Horn, by Eli Epstein

Although in my last post I mentioned that it might be the final one of 2014, I’ve recently acquired some great new recordings that I felt should be reviewed before the year’s end.

This week’s review begins with a short story. One of the first horn recordings I purchased was David Krehbiel’s Orchestral Excerpts for Horn, which I picked up in a Tower Records store in Charlotte, NC during my freshman year in high school. At the time I knew very little about orchestral music, let alone the important excerpts for horn, but something about the CD attracted me to it. Had it been a tape or LP I would probably have worn it out long ago, but thankfully the CD is still in great shape after countless playings over the last 20 years. In retrospect, I think this recording is what really made me fall in love with the sound of the horn, and it introduced me to some of the great orchestral parts for the instrument. My only regret was that Summit Records never pursued a sequel, though the important horn passages in orchestral music could surely fill up multiple discs. And while an entire album of unaccompanied horn playing might seem boring, or at the very least, esoteric to a general audience, I thought it was fantastic.

This brings me to the subject of today’s review, which is, as far as I’m concerned, a perfect sequel to the original horn excerpts CD. I’m a big fan of Eli Epstein, a former member of the Cleveland Orchestra, and a renowned horn pedagogue. I’ve reviewed his book, Horn Playing from the Inside Out, and his YouTube video on the finger breath, both of which address numerous pedagogical issues. What I like most about Epstein’s approach to the horn is the balance between technical and musical considerations. He not only explains how things should sound, but lays out a step-by-step process to help you achieve that sound. In Orchestral Excerpts for Low Horn, Epstein discusses and performs 21 low horn excerpts from the standard repertoire, providing a wonderful resource for teachers and students tackling these challenging passages. The accompanying website (www.epsteinhornexcerpts.com/), which includes pictures, diagrams, and links to recordings, is a great companion to his other pedagogical materials.

Of course, the real star is the recording itself. Though there are numerous valid approaches to these excerpts, you would be hard pressed to find more nuanced, musically substantial performances anywhere. Every note has a purpose, and every musical decision has a concrete, logical reason behind it, which is explained in the commentary preceding each excerpt. Mr. Epstein plays with a warm, fluid sound, with the just the right amount of brassiness when the music calls for it. Rhythm and intonation are impeccable, and these recordings would be great to play along with when preparing either the excerpts themselves or the corresponding first and/or third horn parts. Epstein’s enthusiasm and love for this repertoire come through clearly in his commentary and performances, and I highly recommend this recording to anyone who plays the horn. Whether you are studying these passages for the first time or are reviewing (or teaching) them for the umpteenth time, I am certain that you will be encouraged and inspired.

Recording Review: Solo, J. Bernardo Silva

silvacoverI received this very fine recording several months ago, and have listened to it multiple times. The soloist is Portuguese hornist  J. Bernardo Silva, a member of the Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música, and faculty at Espinho Professional Music School and at the University of Aveiro. Having previously reviewed  a handful of unaccompanied horn recordings (herehere, and here), I think one of the biggest challenges is choosing a program with enough variety to keep the listener interested. In addition, the soloist must play be able with a wide range of colors, dynamics, etc., perhaps even beyond what is necessary  for a horn/piano or chamber music recording. With this disc, Mr. Silva delivers on both counts. The repertoire is a mix of standards and less familiar works.

  • J.S. Bach/ed. Orval, Cello Suite No. 1, BWV 1007
  • Bernhard Krol, Laudatio
  • Sigurd Berge, Hornlokk
  • Charles Koechlin, Monodie, Op. 218bis
  • Trygve Madsen, The Dream of the Rhinoceros
  • Vitaly Buyanovsky, España, from Traveling Impressions
  • Stephen Dodgson, Cor Leonis
  • Gioacchino Rossini/arr. Baumann, Le Rendez-vous de Chasse

Especially interesting are the Koechlin and Dodgson, because of their unfamiliarity. Both date from the 20th century, 1948 and 1990, respectively. The Koechlin is full of bravura writing, particularly in the  upper register, and would be a great addition to a recital program. In contrast, the Dodgson is more atmospheric, though equally effective. Dodgson is perhaps most well known for his guitar compositions, and studied horn at the Royal College of Music in London. For more information, see his obituary in The Guardian, April 2013. Here are some brief excerpts from each work, as found on YouTube.

These relatively obscure works are complemented with several standards from the unaccompanied horn repertoire, performed here with great virtuosity and sensitivity. I am always interested in hearing various interpretations of staples such as Krol’s Laudatio and Buyanovsky’ s España, and these are well worth a listen! Silva plays with a brilliant sound, refined phrasing, and a touch of vibrato. Even if you own several other recordings of the standards found on this disc, it’s worth picking up for the Koechlin and Dodgson alone.

Koetsier Recording Reviewed in Fanfare Magazine

Lynn René Bayley has written a very nice review of my Koetsier recording in Fanfare Magazine. See below for the review. If it piques your interest, consider picking up a copy from CD Baby, available in digital download or physical formats. Thanks to Robert LaPorta of MSR Classics for passing the review along to me!

FANFARE

MARCH / APRIL 2014

KOETSIER Sonatina.1 Romanza.1 Variations.1 Scherzo Brillante.1 13 Études Caractéristiques: VII. Rythme comme “Le Sacre du printemps.” Chorale Fantasy.2 Sonata for Horn and Harp3 • James Boldin (hn); 1Richard Seiler (pn); 2Matthew McMahan (org); 3Jaymee Haefner (hp) • MSR 1393 (52:42)

This is wonderfully light but well-written music for horn by Jan Koetsier (1911–2006), all from late in his life (from 1972 to 1989). Mostly known within Germany, the Dutch-born Koetsier loved writing pieces that were accessible and sometimes humorous, and this generous collection gives us a little of both. None of this music is difficult to describe—it is essentially theme-and-variations style with some modern harmonies tossed in now and then for spice—yet it is all so engaging and delightful that to break it down further would spoil one’s listening enjoyment. The opening Sonatina and the Variations are presented here in world premiere recordings.

Yet, inevitably, what makes this CD work is the wonderfully warm and ebullient playing of young hornist James Boldin, a member of both the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra and Black Bayou Brass. He contributes articles to the Instrumentalist Magazine and The Horn Call, and has also played with other regional orchestras. Thus we have here a paradox: superb playing by a regional American artist on an extraordinarily high level of both technique and communicative abilities. Boldin negotiates his way blithely through Koetsier’s music, spanning styles from the lighthearted Romanza and Scherzo Brillante, to the Chorale Fantasy with its superb dramatic build-up, and the Étude Caractéristique based on the “Sacrificial Dance” from Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps. Equally fine are the contributions of pianist Seiler, organist McMahan, and harpist Haefner. This is, quite simply, a fun disc.

Lynn René Bayley

This article originally appeared in Issue 37:4 (Mar/Apr 2014) of Fanfare Magazine.