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British Horn Concertos
Gordon JACOB
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 always looked likely to be one of the most intriguing of the new batch of Lyritas. Though newly offered to the public the performances were recorded a good long while ago now, back in 1994. The programme is a quintet of British horn works - a quartet of concertos and Gilbert Vinter’s ever-delightful Hunter’s Moon, once the property of Dennis Brain.
Gordon Jacob starts proceedings and having just listened to his stirring symphonies I was fully armed for the concerto. And yes it’s a marvellously insinuating work, buoyantly extrovert in the opening with Jacob’s chugging rhythms underpinning the horn’s flaring authority; or else we can luxuriate in the folkloric string cantilena around 6:10 which cleaves close to the pastoral wind. Lyric repose saturates the central movement but there’s never any danger of over effusiveness or musical garrulousness from Jacob. The finale is con spirito with a flourish – how Brain must have relished the thrown gauntlet of this movement when he premiered the work in 1951. There are also rich and ripely romantic gestures as well. No utilitarian work this – it’s full of heart, warmth and wit, and sits perfectly for the soloist.
More familiar is Malcolm Arnold’s Op.58 Concerto, also written for Brain. A notable feature here is the excellently engineered balance between the horn and the strings. That central movement nostalgic waltz is evocatively done in this performance and the strings’ sickly downward swoops conjure up the worst – but moments of loss and despair are held at bay, just. The finale attests to Arnold’s confidence in fellow brass player Brain’s seamless legato and lip control. Arnold’s demands are punishing but the results are bravura. There are Stravinskian echoes and little Gershwin-like figurations to wish us on our way to a triumphant close.
I’d not heard York Bowen’s Concerto and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Bowen knew all about balance between the horn and other instruments – he once made a N.G.S 78s set of the Brahms’s Horn trio with himself as pianist, horn player Aubrey Brain and violinist Spencer Dyke. When he came to compose his concerto in 1956 he wasn’t however able quite to banish a certain foursquare quality – but he could scarcely suppress the richness of his romantic inspirations either. The romantic interludes are ripely expressive and presage a finale which cleverly alternates between vibrant high spirits and lyric moments. That Bowen certainly knew his Strauss concertos is evident from the braying and flourishing envoi.
Another long shrouded work is the concerto by Ruth Gipps. Annotator Lewis Foreman is quite right, in his typically astute notes, to draw our attention to the fact that Gipps writes with spectacular persistence for the lowermost reaches of the instrument. It was written for her son to play and she must have known, better than anyone, how adept he was technically. There’s plenty of pastoral detail in the orchestration and lively exchanges between the soloist and the winds in the fresh and quick-thinking scherzo. Gipps isn’t afraid of trying some charming conjunctions either; try the horn/celesta moments in the finale which add variety and colour to the texture; a most rewarding work this.
The Vinter Hunter’s Moon, of which an off-air Brain performance exists, is rollickingly good fun. Its central reverie is bathed in Romantic waters and hints of A Londonderry Air – after which we have the inebriated horsemen plunging ever onwards.
It makes for a canny, whimsical, poetic and fruity end to an excellent programme. Don’t overlook the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Nicholas Braithwaite in your admiration for Pyatt.
Jonathan Woolf
see also reviews by John Quinn and Rob Barnett

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