Franz & Richard Strauss Horn Concertos
Richard Strauss's love and aptitude for the horn, a thread that runs through his music from first to last, were a reflection of his childhood when he heard the playing and practising of his father Franz, principal horn of the Munich Court Opera Orchestra. It was therefore appropriate for Ifor James to have recorded the concertos of both father and son on this excellent disc with the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Antoni Wit.
James's plush tone suits the music ideally. The instrument's innate romanticism comes over strongly in his style of playing, which is well supported here by Wit, a conductor with his heart in the right place. If the early First Concerto has no immediately recognizable Strauss fingerprints, it has held its place in the repertoire by virtue of its vigour and the splendid long melodies given to the soloist in the slow movement, where the Polish orchestra's playing is impressive in its intensity.
The Second Concerto of 1943 is a more sophisticated affair, with its echoes of Capriccio and its anticipations of the Four Last Songs. It is an autumnal piece, but one which carries the promise of spring; a delightful work. This is a beautiful performance, sensitively moulded by Wit, exquisitely phrased by James and recorded with a naturalness that avoids the clinical deadness of so many CDs. Listen, if you can, to the strings on track 3 at about 11'40'' to hear what I mean.
Franz Strauss's Concerto, like both those by his son, runs the three conventional classical movements into one. It is the work of a competent and tuneful composer, but a composer who was a virtuoso on his instrument and knew every trick of the trade when it came to showing what the horn could do and what he could do on the horn. But its pyrotechnics hold no terrors for James, who performs it with aplomb.'