What Alec Wilder Thought of John Barrows

We have a number of classic horn recordings on LP in our music library, one of my favorites being John Barrows and His French Horn, recorded in 1960 (I think) by Golden Crest Records. To my knowledge this LP hasn’t been reissued on CD, although it really should be done.  The album is devoted to the music of Alec Wilder, and includes the First Sonata, Second Sonata, and Suite for Horn and Piano, with Milton Kaye, pianist. These are great recordings, and as close to a definitive interpretation of Wilder’s music as you can probably get. Barrows was a longtime champion of Wilder’s compositions, and they held each other in high esteem. Included on the back of the LP is a written tribute by Wilder praising Barrows for his artistry. Though brief, these paragraphs candidly explain Wilder’s immense respect for Barrows and his horn playing.

I’ve admired John Barrows since the day I met him all those years ago in the Eastman School. Intelligent, intuitive, witty, warm and a marvelous musician. My praise may sound suspect considering that it’s my music he has played so superbly on this record. But I swear that, had he never played a single note of mine, my respect would be the same.

He is the bane of all French Horn players, not only because he plays so brilliantly, but because he seldom, if ever, practices. This, I recall, considerably startled me when, after a rather rocky night, he rose with the dawn, wandered up a side hill with (for some mysterious reason) his horn under his arm and let loose, for the first note of the day, a high concert F. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the instrument, this is the top note of the horn.

The strong, intelligent, extremely sensitive playing of Milton Kaye is totally satisfying to me. And I feel that his extraordinary musical rapport with Mr. Barrows is not only constantly in evidence, but has made greater ease and fluidity possible for Mr. Barrows’ performance.

Mr. Barrows has always been excessively humble about his playing, sometimes becoming darkly depressed by the sounds made by a little known Russian horn player who is known in this country only by his recorded performance of a Gliere concerto. [Valeriy Polekh?]

The soloist, whose name escapes me, is obviously a technical marvel. But what Mr. Barrows cannot seem to comprehend is that the Russian’s capacity to produce subtle, mature, communicative playing is minimal in comparison.

Mr. Barrows is also an extremely talented composer, orchestrator and musicologist. He is an aspiring teacher, a great cook and a sports car enthusiast. He is a member of the New York Woodwind Quintet and the Casals Festival Orchestra. Without him, I promise you, none of the music on this album would have been written nor would dozens of other pieces. His faith in me is one of the few truly beautiful experiences of my life


Up next…James Chambers plays the Ralph Hermann concerto.

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