> Alphorn Concertos [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leopold MOZART (1719-1787)
Sinfonia Pastorella for Alphorn and String Orchestra
Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000)

Concertino Rustico

Jean DAETWYLER (1907-1994)

Dialogue avec la nature

Concerto for Alphorn and Orchestra
(no dates given)
Jozsef Molnar, alphorn
Capella Istrapolitana
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Urs Schneider
Recorded in Moyzes Hall, Bratislava, Slovakia, 3rd - 10th May 1987.
NAXOS 8.555978 [61.47]


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This disc is yet another superb transfer from the full-price Marco Polo label to super-bargain Naxos. While the disc title (Alphorn Concertos) might suggest it is something of a novelty, the contents, especially the more substantial pieces by Daetwyler, are anything but. The booklet immediately states that the instrument is "phenomenal in size and in its very limited musical range" yet what these three composers, Daetwyler in particular, do with it is something truly astonishing.

Wolfgang Amadeus's father Leopold Mozart is first up with a fairly short piece. The first two movements may come across as slightly subdued to those who know his Toy Symphony but he makes up for it in the rumbustious finale which is rather forward looking and is not a million miles removed from one of Mahler's ländler settings or his Wunderhorn music. It provides a nice lively contrast to the following Daetwyler piece, although it might make more sense when playing this disc to programme it so that the Farkas follows next. Incidentally, the Leopold Mozart piece was actually originally written for an instrument called the corno pastorito but sounds very well on alphorn.

My only previous encounter with the music of Farkas was his suite of Old Hungarian Dances which is a sort of central European Capriol and this Concertino Rustico is similarly accessible and listenable, although again very short, with two faster outer movements framing a central more reflective one, none clocking in at more than four minutes.

The meat of this collection is undoubtedly contained in the two pieces by the Swiss composer Jean Daetwyler. Hailing from the French-speaking region of the country, he studied with d'Indy in Paris, before returning to Switzerland where he made a speciality of setting folk music and folk instruments in a classical context. Anyone who doubts that the alphorn can be used in such a way should hear these pieces. While very individual pieces in their own right, various other music did cross my mind when listening to them. For instance, anyone who knows the sublime central Romance of Vaughan Williams' Tuba Concerto will know that any instrument can be made to sing, in the right hands. Similarly, those collecting the Tveitt Naxos series, especially the Hardanger suites, will find echoes here of that composer. Daetwyler's music has been accurately described as being "naturalistic and lyrical" so it will come as no surprise that Delius, Grieg and Mahler, plus perhaps Daetwyler's compatriot Honegger (especially the folk based fourth symphony Deliciae Basiliensis) are possible reference points. However, more than all these, I was constantly reminded of not music but a marvellous but slim volume of poetry and prose written by Hermann Hesse (Wandering) which grew from origins very similar to Daetwyler's music and has been described as a "near pantheist idyll". It also brought back memories of several happy summers in the early nineties spent walking the peaks of France's Hautes Alpes.

The Dialogue avec la nature uses the great contrasts between alphorn and piccolo to describe the interaction between human and nature in the context of an alpine environment. It is largely reflective in nature, particularly when the alphorn sings its melancholic song alone, but has some more lively dance-inspired passages, especially in the final rondo section.

The slightly longer Concerto is divided into four movements, the first and third mainly meditative in temperament, the second and fourth dance based. The extended third movement, which Daetwyler called "a description of nature, which seems eternal", is particularly beautiful. As in the Dialogue, woodwind and strings are used very poetically, but the solo alphorn parts are perhaps the most distilled. The first dance (Hirtentanz) is exuberant but slightly off kilter, recalling perhaps one of Prokofiev's or Shostakovich's ironic waltzes. The closing Totentanz (Dance of Death!) begins with a bombardment of percussion with the alphorn sounding almost saxophone like (this reminded me of one of Jan Garbarek's most fruitful pre-Hilliard collaborations - with improvising Swiss violinist Paul Giger on the latter's Alpstein CD). This music, despite its title, is in no way depressing and is informed by Daetwyler's sentiment that "it is true that men who live close to the land know by instinct that life can only come from death", echoing the views of yet another kindred spirit, the great Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

I was pleasantly surprised by this CD and have listened to it repeatedly, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Neil Horner

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