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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Horn Trio, Op. 40 (1865) [27:51]
Giovanni PUNTO (Jan Václav STICH) (1746-1803)
Horn Quartet [15:23]
Arthur Grumiaux (violin), James Stagliano (horn), Gregory Tucker (piano) (Brahms)
James Stagliano (horn), Ruth Posselt (violin), Joseph De Pasquale (viola), Samuel Mayes (cello) (Punto)
rec. 1953, Boston

When he was in Boston in 1953 – then the city with that most Franco-Belgian of orchestras – Arthur Grumiaux made a select number of recordings for Boston Records. This was the label set up by one of the Boston Symphony’s horn players, James Stagliano, and the fruits of two of those early LPs have been issued on Parnassus. What Parnassus had no room for in its well-filled CD was the recording Grumiaux, Stagliano and pianist Gregory Tucker made of Brahms’ Horn Trio. This is what FR has now sourced (Boston Records B-209) and together with that Parnassus disc it now completes the very little-known period of Grumiaux’s early American recordings.

Tucker recorded hardly at all but enjoyed a long and distinguished career, notably teaching at Harvard. This ad-hoc trio had no real performing history behind it but with three such able musicians on board the results are full of character and finesse. The recording itself is quite forward and whilst not especially subtle it’s certainly not uncomfortably boxy, the fate of all too many discs made for small labels – and rather bigger ones too.

Stagliano’s cultured playing is admirable and Grumiaux sounds engaged and expressive – the trio really make something fine of the B section of the Scherzo, the music emerging buoyantly expressive if not always rock-tight in terms of ensemble. Such imprecisions as there are remain trifling. The warmly phrased and grave lyricism of the Adagio is especially notable – and here Tucker phrases very well; he was Grumiaux’s partner in the other Boston recordings, so they must have generated a sympathetic rapport together. With a vividly drawn finale – albeit with a black mark to Boston for one conspicuously bad edit – this recording, which will be unknown to most admirers of Grumiaux, offers a fiery and communicative example of collaborative music-making.

Coupled with it on the LP was the Horn Quartet by Giovanni Punto or Jan Václav Stich if you prefer his Czech name. Then, as now, he’s pretty much unknown. Apart from the soloist-label owner the personnel changes completely but it’s a measure of Stagliano’s persuasiveness, perhaps, that he managed to enlist such a starry band of string players. The violinist is Ruth Posselt (see my review of a splendid box of her performances), the excellent soloist who was married to the then concertmaster of the Boston under Charles Munch, Richard Burgin. The violist is Joseph De Pasquale, then principal of the Boston orchestra and later – perhaps even more conspicuously - of the Philadelphia. Cellist Samuel Mayes reproduced De Pasquale’s trajectory and had been principal of the Boston since 1948, moving later to Philadelphia. They play the Punto with brio and awareness of its vivid Classicism and its Rococo flourishes. The lovely slow movement is played eloquently and Stagliano digs into the cadenza here with relish. Posselt takes the concertante role in the finale, with Mayes’ witty repartee ensuring that all goes well; gemütlich in the best Bohemian-Viennese tradition.

No notes, as is usual from FR, and LP playing time, but this is an uncommon disc and it’s good to have it available so well transferred.

Jonathan Woolf

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