SCHUMANN: Konzertstuck for 4 Horns & Orchestra.* Adagio & Allegro (orch. Ansermet). SAINT-SAËNS: Morceau de concert. GLIÈRE; Horn Concerto / Markus Maskuniitty, Fr-hn; *add Martin Schöpfer, Kristofer Öberg, Monica Berenguer, Fr-hn; Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orch.; Sakari Oramo, cond / Ondine ODE 1339-2
I would be remiss if I didn’t give big thank-you to David Hurwitz, executive editor of Classics Today, for alerting me to this CD via a YouTube video. (Hurwitz also hipped me to the excellent Charles Munch box set issued by Decca, which includes a ton of his early recordings with the Paris Conservatoire, Concertgebouw and London Philharmonic Orchestras as well as his greatest recording of the Berlioz Requiem, a stupendously-recorded Deutsche Grammophon production from 1967.) I was stunned to learn that this CD came out in 2019, because I would swear that it wasn’t in the Naxos New Release guides for that year. I would surely have reviewed a new CD of the Schumann Konzertstuck had I noticed it.
Maskuniitty is a Finnish horn player and, in my view, the finest new hornist to come along since Marie Luise Neunecker when she went from orchestra player to soloist around the late 1980s-early ‘90s. Folks, this guy has IT, and that IT is a bright, open tone along with a real “kick” to his playing. I get so sick and tired of listening to modern day horn players with their hands stuck so far into the bell that their tone is constantly muffled. Maskuniitty, thankfully, will have none of that and I am all the more grateful to him because of it.
Of course, the Konzertstuck depends on four good horn players, not just one, and somehow Maskuniity and his conductor, Sakari Oramo, have come up with three more on the same level as Maskuniitty. Where have they been hiding?? Come on, guys, barge your way into some other recording sessions and let’s hear you, all of you!
But once past the Konzertstuck, this is Maskuniitty’s show, and a fine one it is. My sole caveat was that he (and Oramo) played the “Adagio” in the Schumann Adagio & Allegro a bit too slowly, but he more than made up for it with a real kick-ass “Allegro.”
Neither the Saint-Saëns Morceau de concert nor the Reinhold Glière Horn Concerto are exactly over-recorded, possibly because they’re not big fan favorites but also possibly because there aren’t many horn players out there who get as involved with the music as Maskuniitty does here. Omigod, just listen to the final “Allegro non troppo” in the Saint-Saëns! The way he rips through it put me in mind of Barry Tuckwell (who I got to hear in person once), except that Maskuniitty has a much more consistent tone. (In case you forgot or didn’t know, Tuckwell played a “Frankenhorn,” welding the bell of a Conn – to give him a bigger sound – onto the body of a Holton, which gave him better technical control.)
The Glière is typical of that composer, overly-Romantic and only minimally interesting as music, and is thus the least interesting piece on the CD. If Maskuniitty had some of Dennis Brain’s poetic phrasing to go along with his dazzling technique it might have come off a bit better, but bombastic Romantic crap is bombastic Romantic crap, thus this will surely be the piece I play least often on this CD, though I doubt that any latter-day horn player could do it any better than Maskuniitty does here. I mean, he even plays chords (the horn plays one note while the player hums another) in the first-movement cadenza.
But he’s clearly a virtuoso of his instrument and he plays with a bright tone and enthusiasm, so go for it. You won’t be disappointed.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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