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Forgotten Treasures, Vol 06: Chant d'Automne - Hübner / Willens

Forgotten Treasures, Vol 06: Chant d'Automne - Hübner / Willens

Ars Produktion  ARS 38 027

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical


Camille Saint-Saëns, Jean-Toussaint Radoux, Emile Pessard, Paul Jeanjean, Aymé Kunc, Robert Guillemyn, George Templeton Strong, Emmanuel Chabrier, Théodore Dubois, Jules Massenet, Adolphe Blanc

Ulrich Hübner (horn)
Kölner Akademie
Michael Alexander Willens

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Review by John Miller - February 12, 2008

The French have a long-standing romance with the horn. This disc brings together many Romantic works for horn and orchestra from the last half of the C19th and early 20th Century, a period when few concertos for the instrument were composed.

French composers in particular held on to the natural horn, because of the interesting and varied timbres it produces withinin its range. The advent of valves, patented in 1818, gave the instrument the same sound throughout, although it was somewhat easier to play and more reliable under pressure. Brahms continued to write for natural horns throughout his life, referring to the newcomer disparagingly as "the brass viola". A feature of this collection is that some of the pieces were written for the natural horn, others for the valve horn, so the differences between the species are very clearly heard. Several of the composers even instructed the valve horn player to stop using the valves and play their instrument as a natural horn for some passages.

The superb horn player featured here is Ulrich Hübner, is an internationally-known expert on both instruments. He plays on narrow bore French horns from the late C19th with consummate skill and rich tonal colours, and is ably accompanied by the Kölner Akademie, a period orchestra which matches its instrumentarium, seating patterns and playing styles to the works in their programmes. From the session photos they appear to number about 30. They use gut strings, cellos have no spikes, woodwind are period or copies (lovely wooden flutes) and violins are divided left and right.

Saint-Saëns's three compositions for horn and orchestra are bought together here, and there are also pieces each by Chabrier and Massenet. These are the household names on the 14 tracks; the others are hardly known outside France (except for George Templeton Strong, a New Yorker who trained in Leipzig). All the tracks are delightful and invite repeated listening, being full of melody and interesting orchestral effects. My special favourites are Aymé Kunc's Nocturne (a highly original piece with rich Debussian harmonies and great swelling climaxes, after which the horn makes dramatic solo entries), Robert Guillemyn's Chant d'Automne (a real sense of autumnal movement and painterly colour) as well as George Templeton Strong's Hullali, the only piece concerned with the hunt - a joyful foot-tapping movement from 1923 used as a test-piece for sight-reading. I kept asking myself why I had never heard this music before.

Conductor Michael Alexander Willens pilots the music-making with great friendly warmth; he and the orchestra appear to be enjoying their outing with the horns, and they respond in kind to Hübner's artistry.

The 5.1 DSD recording is exemplary. Made in a smallish church in Wurtenburg, the sound is immediate but expansive. In multichannel you are instantly aware of the many reflections from the walls produced by the horn, which come from all around you. The soloist himself, although standing just to the left of the conductor, is placed further back in the mix, which avoids the extraneous noises of playing and breathing, and adds bloom to his rich tone. I would love to hear the R Strauss Horn concertos played by Ulrich Hübner and this period band - how about it, Ars?

The packaging is immaculate. Cover art is striking, there are well-translated English/German detailed notes on the horn's history, commentaries on the music and its composers and performer biographies. The booklet is richly provided with photographs of the period horns and many session pictures.

This is a feast of colour such as provided by an exhibition of the lesser-known French Impressionists. Highly recommended, and a perfect companion to the recent Paysages disc (Paysages - Guidarini), with which it shares much beauty.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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