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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Complete Horn Concertos (Cadenzas and lead-ins by Roger Montgomery)
Horn Concerto No. 2 in E flat, K 417 [13:28]
Fragment in E, K494a [3:05]
Horn Concerto No. 4 in E flat, K 495 [16:16]
Horn Concerto No. 3 in E flat, K 447 [14:05]
Horn Concerto No. 1 in D, K 412; 514 [12:35]
Horn Concerto in E flat, K 370; 371 [10:31]
Roger Montgomery (natural horn)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Margaret Faultless (violin)
rec. All Saints’ church, East Finchley. London 22 to 24 Oct 2012
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD345 [70:00]

This disc gives you what is effectively Mozart’s complete works for horn and orchestra; the four canonical concertos (plus additions), together with another couple of numbers that have been “concerto-ised” for the purposes of this recording. Roger Montgomery himself has worked to “complete” the orchestration of K 494a, though he leaves this one hanging frustratingly in mid-air at the point where Mozart broke off. What is here called Concerto No. 1 features additions from Mozart’s pupil Süssmayr, as well as from Stephen Roberts, who also adds touches to K 370, which I especially enjoyed, and 371. It’s a decent work of scholarship as well as of playing, and the notes give some details of what has been added and what reconstructed.
 
As for the playing, the OAE strings are very well behaved throughout, though some might criticise them for being rather too much in the role of accompanist rather than a co-participant. I missed the more forward, proactive sound of ensembles like the Academy of St Martin in the Fields or the English Chamber Orchestra. Roger Montgomery plays his horn very skilfully, and with as much beauty as it is realistically possible to get from a natural instrument. I must admit that I hankered after the mellifluous, silky sound that you get from a modern instrument, but Montgomery comes as close to that as I’ve heard from a natural horn, which is no mean achievement when you consider how much more difficult it is to play. There is fullness and beauty to his tone, and never once do you feel nervous or uncertain that he is going to deliver. His style of playing is probably more suited to the quicker outer movements (especially the finales), but he still does a grand job with the slow movements, even if they are marginally less engaging. The various “hunting” movements are great fun, especially the famous ones that end Nos. 1, 3 and 4. His cadenzas are also impressive, especially that of K 495, and he throws himself into that finale of K 495 with winnable gusto.
 
I still retain my affection for the recording of the Horn Concertos with which I grew up, the one from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner and Alan Civil, and most collectors will remember with affection Karajan’s classic 1953 account with the Philharmonia and Dennis Brain.
 
If you want a period version that won’t rock the boat then this OAE one will do fine, though there’s an argument that it falls between two stools, watering down the period elements but missing out on the smoothness of a modern version.
 
Simon Thompson
 
Previous review: Colin Clarke