Mozart Horn Concertos

An attractive collection of Decca's mid-price Ovation reissues of which the top half-dozen are among this company's finest CDs

Author: 
Ivan March

Mozart Horn Concertos

  • (4) Concertos for Horn and Orchestra
  • Fragment for Horn and Orchestra (Concerto Movement
  • Rondo for Horn and Orchestra, "Concert Rondo"
  • Rondo for Horn and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Horn and Orchestra
  • Quintet for Piano and Strings, 'Trout'
  • (6) Moments musicaux

Leading this batch is Munchinger's splendidly alive and stylish coupling of two Bach choral masterpieces, the Easter Oratorio and Magnificat. With first-class soloists common to both, Elly Ameling in her most radiant voice, and vintage analogue recording (the trumpets gleaming resplendently), this is an outstanding example of joyfully authentic Bach from the late 1960s, using modern instruments.
Just as recommendable, perhaps, is Dutoit's uniquely generous Montreal pairing of both of Bizet's delightful L'arlesienne suites plus the two orchestral suites from Carmen; they're unsurpassed in the present catalogue. There is a Beechamesque feeling in the zest and panache of Dutoit's direction here, and the orchestral playing, woodwind and strings alike, is a sheer delight. The scored vocal numbers from Carmen are particularly successful, helped by the demonstration standard of the digital recording and, of course, the warm Montreal acoustic.
After this, Jorge Bolet's strikingly intimate coupling of the two Chopin piano concertos is marginally disappointing. He made them in the last year of his life and though the pianistic colour is as impressive as ever, especially in the gently restrained slow movements, there's a hint of lethargy elsewhere at times and (especially in the finales) the music needs more extrovert glitter.
It is the restrained intimacy of George Guest's St John's performances of the Durufle and Faure Requiems that gives this particular CD its special individuality. In both works, boy trebles sing the 'Pie Jesu' with affecting simplicity, Jonathan Bond in the Faure and a young Robert King in the Durufle, and, of course, trebles also feature in the choir. In the Durufle, an organ accompaniment is used to emphasise a smaller scale of approach, so that if you are not looking primarily for drama in this music, these atmospheric recordings will be found very satisfying.
There is certainly no want of extrovert brashness in Chailly's Gershwin programme, and the Labeque sisters treat Rhapsody in Blue very freely, creating, in virtuoso touches of their own, every opportunity to enjoy themselves. They fully capture the music's exuberance, and An American in Paris and the Cuban Overture are treated with similar uninhibited boisterousness. The Cleveland players, too, are on top bravura form, and the recording is brilliant to match.
The two CDs featuring Andras Schiff show this highly imaginative artist at his finest. Both his coupling of the Mendelssohn piano concertos, combining poetic delicacy with vivacious virtuosity, and the effervescent, light-hearted account of Schubert's Trout Quintet, which he leads so winningly, stand out from the many competitive versions in the catalogue. To the former he adds an appealing selection of Songs without Words and having given us - in partnership with the superb Hagen Quartet - a wonderfully fresh yet penetrating account of Schubert's most infectious chamber work, he adds a distinctive set of the Moments musicaux, full of magical insights. Both discs are given naturally balanced digital recordings out of Decca's top drawer.
Unless you want the works played on an authentic hand-horn (for which there is a strong case), Barry Tuckwell's accounts of Mozart's four horn concertos, plus the two Rondos and the unfinished fragment, are second to none. He was a natural successor to Dennis Brain and plays with an easy fluency as well as distinctive Mozartian charm and geniality, accompanying himself while directing the ECO very stylishly. These are his later digital versions, and very good they are, too.
Mainly through the advocacy of his consistently excellent Decca records, Herbert Blomstedt has steadily emerged as one of the outstanding conductors of our generation. He directs the San Francisco orchestra in a superbly exciting Don Juan, then takes us on an opulently spectacular journey up Strauss's very own Alpine mountain, and back down again. The spectacular 'Sunrise' and the echoing horns in the forest at the opening are matched by the gently sensuous calm of the 'Sunset' and 'Epilogue' (Strauss was at his most affecting in epilogues). Sonically thrilling, this coupling is another jewel in the Blomstedt crown.
Dutoit's Tchaikovsky triptych is also impressive as sheer sound, although this CD has, perhaps, been remastered since I first reviewed it (10/86 - it seems even better balanced than I remembered it). I quote from my original comments. The Capriccio italien 'combines a nice elegance in the decorative string writing with plenty of sparkle'; the Nutcracker Suite brings at times a 'chamber-music refinement', although the 'Waltz of the flowers' is 'not as exhilarating as some versions'. 1812 is also an individual rather than barnstorming account, and it no longer has canon, a tolling bell, carillon and synthesised effects to add to the spectacle. The performance, although exciting, 'does not make you sit on the edge of the chair'.'

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