DEBUT / WIDMANN: Air for Solo Horn. KRUFFT: Horn Sonata. SCHUMANN: Adagio & Allegro for Horn & Piano. BOWEN: Horn Sonata. KIRCHNER: Tre Poemi. SALONEN: Concert Étude for Solo Horn / Ben Goldscheider, Fr-hn; Daniel Hill, pn / Willowhayne WHR045
This is the debut recital album by young British hornist Ben Goldscheider, only 19(!) who reached the finals of the BBC Young Musician Competition in 2016. Being both a solo horn player in concerti and a committed chamber musician, Goldscheider has played recitals throughout the UK. He started playing the cello at age five, but at age six he was diagnosed with Bronchiectasis which led to his taking up the French horn to build up his lungs with the deep breathing necessary for playing that instrument. He plays an Alexander 103 model horn.
What I liked most about this disc, aside from Goldscheider’s warm yet burnished tone, was that fact that the repertoire is off the beaten path. Only the Schumann Adagio & Allegro could be called standard fare; everything else is unusual, and I was particularly happy to learn of the horn sonata by York Bowen, who in the past decade has become one of my favorite composers. But before we get to Bowen, there are several surprises in store, not least of which is the Air for Horn by Jörg Widmann. A lyrical piece, the Air nonetheless challenges the performer by using a variety of unusual technical devices, such as hand stopping of the bell, quick lip trills, chording and notes played on the edge of the pitch. Goldscheider is such a technical master that he encompasses all of this with ease, drawing the listener inward to the somewhat Stravinskian turns of phrase. It’s a stunning opener to this recital.
Next we hear the horn sonata of Nikolaus von Krufft, who studied philosophy and law in addition to the horn. He played long into the night after his day job in land governance; it’s felt that this hyperactive lifestyle may have contributed to his early death at age 39. The sonata is surprisingly long, taking up 21 ½ minutes, and is somewhat reminiscent in style to the much shorter Beethoven horn sonata. The beauty of Goldscheider’s tone is on full display here, as is his very lyrical approach, and I’m happy to say that he does not try to be another Barry Tuckwell clone. (Tuckwell was a fine player technically, but his odd, patched-together instrument, combining the bell of a Conn with the fingering mechanism of a Holton, had a rather tight, constricted sound. I know; I heard him in person.) Despite the fact that Krufft, despite his emulation, was no Beethoven, the music is by no means bad or uninteresting, merely ordinary whereas Beethoven’s was extraordinary. In addition to his beautiful tone and technical mastery, Goldscheider is also a master musician in other ways, specifically his enthusiastic energy allied with a deeply-felt sensitivity for lyricism in his phrasing. Indeed, these qualities are what make his playing of this sonata interesting. They elevate this ordinary music due to his artistry. Cornish pianist Daniel Hill is a good accompanist if not quite on Goldscheider’s level.
The performance of Schumann’s Adagio & Allegro puts Goldscheider’s assets on full display, the warm, caressing sound of his legato and the brilliance of his fast playing. I was particularly struck by his impeccable control of the low range, an area of the horn that often sounds “blatty” or hollow, but which sounds rich and mellow in his skilled hands.
The Bowen sonata is typical of his mature style (1937), combining tonal lyricism with those unusual and unexpected turns of phrase and harmony that keep you listening to see what comes next. Here, too, I was really impressed by Hill’s pianism—perhaps not surprising when one considers that Bowen, a virtuoso pianist, wrote truly great music for that instrument. Throughout the sonata, in fact, the piano is no mere accompanist for the horn but a full-fledged partner in the ongoing musical development, in fact the one who often “leads” the horn. This is clearly one of the highlights of this album for both musicians. The liner notes give Bowen the title of “the English Rachmaninov,” but to my ears his music is far more sophisticated and interesting.
Next up are the Tre Poemi, written by German violinist-composer Volker David Kirchner for another great horn player of today, Marie-Luise Neunecker (see my review of her Strauss Horn Concerti here). Kirchner uses some unusual techniques, such as requiring the hornist to play directly into the body of the grand piano in the first piece, which changes the resonance of both instruments. In the case of the horn, it sounds as if it has a built-in echo chamber (hey, the body of a concert grand is BIG!), and Kirchner requires the hornist to use hand stops in the bell to mute certain notes. In the case of the piano, it gives his instrument a slightly tinny quality, almost like that of a super-harpsichord. The music itself is modern in scope if primarily tonal; there’s an interesting passage where a low crushed chord on the piano rumbles off into the ether as the horn player continues going. The note tell us that this first selection, titled Lamento, is often played as a stand-alone piece. The second of the poems, Danza, uses echo effects to an interesting degree. There are also repeated single notes on the horn that push the music into an unusually aggressive rhythm. The third piece, La Gondola funebre, is very slow and moody, with the piano playing single notes that sound like water-drops while the horn pursues a sad legato melody. In the middle, the piano plays aggressively strong, rolling chords and booming bass notes that change the mood and give the music more of an edge.
The Concert Étude by the well-known conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who also played the horn as a youngster, is modern but lyrical. Salonen claims that he wrote it “for the great horn player I never became,” filling it with lip staccato, bent notes, chords (the hornist hums one note and plays another simultaneously to achieve this effect) and other acrobatics. Played a cappella, it nonetheless establishes a strong emotional connection with the listener.
To put it mildly, this is a heck of a debut recital. Young Goldscheider shows off almost everything he can do, and he can do an awful lot. He says his goal is to make impresarios as well as audiences recognize the potential of the horn as a great solo concert instrument. I’d say he’s off to a great start.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter or Facebook @Artmusiclounge