Recording Reviews: Richard Deane; Steven Cohen

I seldom post recording reviews on this site, but every once in a while I either receive a complimentary album in the mail, or hear about a project that piques my interest. To close out a series of reviews from this summer, here are two horn recordings that are well worth your time.

Mid-Century Sonatas for Horn and PianoRichard Deane, horn; Timothy Whitehead, piano

  • Halsey Stevens, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1953)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Althorn in Es und Klavier (1943/1956)
  • Bernard Heiden, Sonata for Horn and Piano (1939)
  • Paul Hindemith, Sonata für Horn und Klavier (1939)
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These sonatas for horn and piano by Halsey Stevens, Paul Hindemith, and Bernard Heiden are staples in the repertoire. Deane is Associate Principal Horn in the New York Philharmonic, and served as Acting Principal for the 2017-18 season. He was previously a member of the Atlanta Symphony for many years. Though the repertoire is conventional, the extremely high caliber of the performances makes this recording special. Deane plays with a huge but focused sound. To my ear the “New York sound” has changed over the years, partially due to changes in equipment, I’m sure, but also probably as a response to the ever increasing demands of the job. Whitehead’s piano playing is equally impressive – especially in the final movement of the Hindemith E-flat Sonata – and is a fitting musical counterpart to the horn in these works.  There is not much in the way of liner notes, but there is a very nice video on YouTube with background about the project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP-kJf8xiJM  One other interesting note about this album is that Whitehead not only performed on piano, but did all of the recording, producing, editing, and mixing – not a small feat! The recording is both vibrant and clear, and for those who might be interested the recording equipment is listed in the liner notes.

Cruise Control: Horn Music from Five Emerging American Composers – Steven Cohen, horn; Jed Moss, piano; Scott Shinbara, percussion; Amanda Sealock, percussion

  • James Naigus, Sonata for Horn and Piano
  • Jenni Brandon, Dawn for Horn in F and Piano
  • Adam Wolf, Cruise Control for Horn, Piano and Percussion
  • Wayne Lu, Pranayama
  • Gina Gillie, Sonata for Horn and Piano
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Cruise Control is a contrasting but equally interesting album by New York City freelancer Steven Cohen, and features world premiere recordings by several up and coming American composers. This project was sponsored by Siegfried’s Call, with a significant portion of the funding generated through an Indiegogo campaign. Be sure to check out the Indiegogo link for more information about the project and the commissioning process.

The music on this disc is fun and fresh, and showcases what I think the horn does best: play beautiful melodies and exhibit a variety of timbres. Cohen navigates the full range of the horn with ease and expression (using similar equipment to Richard Deane, a triple horn by Engelbert Schmid). Stylistically there is a bit of everything on this recording, from Neo-romanticism in the Sonatas by James Naigus and Gina Gillie to Minimalism and Rock in Cruise Control by Adam Wolf, and avant garde extended techniques in the works by Jenni Brandon and Wayne Lu. This recording is a musical and technical tour de force, and serves as a great resource for anyone interested in new music for the horn.

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Gearing up for the Southeast Horn Workshop

This weekend I’ll be heading to my old stomping ground of Boone, NC for the 2011 Southeast Horn Workshop, which is being held on the campus of Appalachian State University.  I’m looking forward to catching up with colleagues and former teachers, as well as hearing some fabulous horn playing by guest artists John Ericson, David Jolley, and Gail Williams.  As always, I plan to peruse the music and other publications, and I will definitely be picking up copies of John Ericson’s new low horn and technique books.   As far as these topics go, I feel that you can never have enough good resources in your library.  I’ll admit it, I’m an etude junkie!

For my part I’ll be involved in several different activities at this year’s SEHW.  On Friday I’ll be judging a portion of the College Solo Competition with Skip Snead, Professor of Horn at the University of Alabama, presenting a session called “Teaching Younger Horn Players,” and possibly teaching several 20-minute mini lessons to prospective students.  To my knowledge this hasn’t been done in a long time, if ever, at this particular regional workshop.  It should be very interesting to see what we can do in such a short time.

On Saturday I’ll be performing a brand new work for solo horn by a former college classmate, William Withem.  The work is titled Agamemnon, and is really a well-written piece, very idiomatic and fun to play.  Here are some program notes on the piece, quoted from Bill’s website.  Many thanks to Bill for taking the time and care to produce a very fine new work for horn.

In Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra, the character of Agamemnon (Elektra’s father) was murdered upon his return home from the Trojan War. The opera focuses on Elektra’s plot to exact revenge against Agamemnon’s murderers. Strauss represents Agamemnon with an ominous three-note theme that outlines a D minor chord. It first appears at the very beginning of the score, and is heard in various forms throughout the remainder of the opera. As a hypothetical question, one may wander what becomes of the memory of Agamemnon? Was he despised enough to be murdered, or should he be celebrated as a victorious commander of war? That question, plus Strauss’ motive for Agamemnon, serve as the point of inspiration for this piece; a character and thematic exploration of the Trojan War commander. The motive is treated in various forms of altered rhythms and tonal qualities, set in contrasting sections.  Each section relates to various aspects of the character: an opening call to summon his soldiers, a war march, a song to lament departing from one’s family in wartime, and a murderous dance of death.

If you happen to be in the area this weekend, I encourage you to check out the Southeast Horn Workshop.  There will be plenty of horn-related concerts, presentations, and master classes for everyone.

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