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British Horn Concertos
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)

Concerto for Horn and Strings (1950s) [20:35]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Concerto No. 2 for Horn and Strings, Op. 58 (1956) [14:03]
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Concerto for Horn, string orchestra and timpani (1956) [16:27]
Ruth GIPPS (1921-1999)
Horn Concerto, Op. 58 (1968) [17:11]
Gilbert VINTER (1909-1969)

Hunter’s Moon (1943) [6:22]
David Pyatt (horn)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Watford Town Hall, 10-21 Jan 1994 (Jacob, Bowen, Arnold); Henry Wood Hall, London, 8-9 Feb 1994 (Gipps, Vinter). DDD
LYRITA SRCD.316 [74:42]


This is one of the "new" Lyritas, in the sense that the recordings on this CD have never been issued before, even though they were made thirteen years ago. Though it’s a matter for regret that the recordings have lain in the vaults for so long it’s cause for unqualified rejoicing that such a delightful collection, all in sparkling performances, should now be available.

David Pyatt is an outstanding young British musician. I recall his victory in the BBC Young Musician of the year competition in 1988. At that time he was aged only 14 – he’d only taken up the horn six years earlier, I believe. He has since gone on to build a highly successful solo career, combining that with the post of Principal Horn in the London Philharmonic Orchestra, an assignment that he took up in the 1998/9 season.

All the works included here, with the exception of Ruth Gipps’s concerto were closely associated with the great Dennis Brain. I’m sure he played all of them superbly – he gave the premières of the Jacob, Arnold and Bowen works - but it’s hard to imagine stronger advocacy than all the pieces receive from David Pyatt. He’s recorded relatively closely, though not aggressively so, and not in such a way as to eclipse the consistently interesting orchestral parts. The closeness of the balance allows us to appreciate to the full his rich, round, golden tone as well as his seemingly effortless technique. This is, in short a superb demonstration of horn playing. There are other links within the programme too, besides the "Brain factor". For example, both Malcolm Arnold and Ruth Gipps were pupils of Gordon Jacob and the first broadcast performance of the Gipps concerto was given, in 1982, by Frank Lloyd, David Pyatt’s own teacher.

The concerto by Ruth Gipps seems to me to be the most serious of the pieces on this disc – not that any of them is exactly frivolous. She wrote it for her son, who gave the first performance. The first movement offers the soloist frequent opportunities for virtuosity but it’s predominantly a thoughtful movement. Unusually the middle movement is not slow in tempo; instead it’s a scherzo, featuring what Lewis Foreman memorably describes as a "thistledown tune". There’s a vivacious start to the finale but before long we reach a more lyrical and pensive section and this music alternates thereafter with livelier episodes. The accompaniment to this concerto features the fullest orchestration of the four and the scoring is consistently resourceful and interesting. Nowhere is this more apparent that in the short passage in the finale that Lewis Foreman highlights in his notes. Here, beginning at 4:30, the soloist duets with the celesta in a most imaginative and unusual piece of scoring. Like its companions on the disc this concerto cries out to be heard more often and David Pyatt is a splendid advocate for it.

He’s no less admirable in the splendid concerto by York Bowen, himself a horn player. The more I hear of Bowen’s music the more I like it and the more I marvel at its neglect. This is an inventive and tremendously enjoyable work in which a short, reflective slow movement catches the listener’s attention. The finale is cast mainly in a lively frame of mind but the romantic in York Bowen can’t resist pausing along the way for a lovely middle section in a slower tempo – and thank goodness for it.

Malcolm Arnold’s concerto is probably the best known of these concertos. Another work inspired by Dennis Brain, he gave its first performance at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1957, just a matter of weeks before his tragic and untimely death. Arnold, himself an orchestral trumpeter and therefore well versed in brass instruments, appears to write with complete understanding not just of the solo instrument but of the personality for whom he had written the work. The main material of the central slow movement is a nostalgic slow waltz that David Pyatt clearly relishes and which offers a few moments of relative repose before the headlong virtuosity of the finale.

The Gordon Jacob concerto is a delight from start to finish. The first movement frequently has the strings playing in motor rhythms but over the top of this material the soloist has interesting and lively music. There’s a substantial and lovely lyrical core to this movement and a demanding cadenza (from 7:20). The slow movement is a wonderfully atmospheric nocturne, which is imbued with a fine sense of lyrical repose. Pyatt is most eloquent here. Most of the time the finale dances along giving the soloist ample opportunity for display but there are some disarming lyrical stretches too.

This generously filled disc concludes with an encore in the shape of Hunter’s Moon. by Gilbert Vinter. This wasn’t written for Dennis Brain but he took it up towards the end of his life as something of a party piece. I hadn’t encountered it before and I found it most engaging. The outer sections, which contain a bouncy little march, frame a gorgeous cantabile central section. The whole piece breathes the atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I enjoyed the Vinter piece, but then I enjoyed the whole disc immensely. The music is of high quality and the standard of performance is consistently superb. In this last comment I include not just the marvellous solo playing of David Pyatt but also the fine support given to him by Nicholas Braithwaite and the LPO. The recorded sound is first rate and Lewis Foreman’s authoritative and enthusiastic notes are a model of their kind. For sheer listening pleasure this is one of the best discs to have come my way for a long time.

John Quinn

See also review by Rob Barnett

The Lyrita Catalogue




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